Our purpose for starting a western study is to advance the science of ecosystem health monitoring and to demonstrate the application of core tools from EMAP in monitoring and assessment across the West. We propose to accomplish this by proving EMAP designs can answer the urgent and practical assessment questions facing the western EPA Regional Offices while framing these unique studies in a methodology that can be extended to the entire nation.
Core Objective of EMAP:
To develop and demonstrate the survey design and ecological indicators that will produce unbiased estimates of the condition of selected ecological resources and comparative ranking of anthropogenic stressors to resources. EMAP will focus initially on coastal systems (estuaries and coastal waters), inland aquatic systems (lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands) and landscapes.
There are several examples of ways in which EMAP monitoring data will be supportive of the Region's managerial decision-making process. A few examples are: Much of the legislation and many initiatives promulgated as supporting environmental protection; e.g., ecosystem management, ecosystem targeting, GPRA, require an unbiased estimate of the condition of ecological resources. No nationally consistent methodology is in place to arrive at such estimates. To assess trends in condition of an ecological resource, say surface waters, an EPA region presently has no option but to "add up" the results of many individual monitoring activities even though there is no consistent methodology used. Combining this deficiency with the long-term Agency need to measure the results of its environmental protection actions (highlighted by the GPRA process) argues for the continued development of EMAP. The EMAP-West could demonstrate how to arrive at the status and trends in condition of surface waters, including biological measures, across multi-state regions in the three western regions.
Another example of a management use of EMAP data to facilitate targeting protection and restoration activities on those ecoregions/watersheds that provide the biggest "bang for the buck." A true risk assessment based on statistically sound data that is comparable across multiple ecoregions/watersheds is required to target activities of greatest value. Regional managers can then establish funding priorities based on comparable data. The landscape component of EMAP provides information that has multiple management implications for EPA . The landscape monitoring and assessment offers complete coverage of the watersheds within the west and the indicators employed provide significant information on the vulnerability of the western aquatic systems to nonpoint source and habitat disturbances. These data offer a significant input into the TMDL process, BASINS modeling for loads and habitat impacts as they affect salmonids and other aquatic biota.
Both the estuarine and inland aquatic monitoring provide information that feeds several activities in the west. Effective monitoring of these resources offers credible estimates for the questions addressed by the 305(b) reports. Additionally, improved monitoring of these systems will feed the TMDL process by defining the magnitude of systems needing TMDLs, an estimate of how many of these will be resolved by the historic chemical loading model for TMDLs and how many will require new approaches toward setting TMDLs.
Core Tools Developed and Advocated:
EMAP has been advancing the science of monitoring in the area of indicators and monitoring designs. Below are specific perspectives that must be imbedded in the western demonstration studies.
- We use indicators that provide a direct measure of ecological condition (or at least as direct as we can get) not surrogate measures.
- We use indicators that measure "integrated" condition or "ecosystem health, ", i.e., condition relative to the cumulative effect of stressors to the system, not indicators of response to single particular stressors or a limited number of stresses.
- We use a suite of physical, chemical and habitat measures to develop a relative ranking of stresses to the system.
- Unbiased estimates require either a complete census of the ecological resources through remote sensing or a rigorous probability survey design that allows extrapolation of results from the sample to the entire resource of interest. Both strategies will be utilized - a census for land cover/land use and a probability survey for other resources.
- In the design considerations, we deal with ecological resources, i.e., resources that are characterized primarily by natural biota.
- We use designs that provide unbiased estimates and we operate at a sufficiently large scale to allow estimates of comparative risk among what most people would consider to be "ecosystems."
- We deal with either spatial or temporal comparisons, or both.
Scope of the EMAP-West:
EMAP was developed because of the disparate information across the country and our inability to put the pieces together in a national picture. This made it difficult to apply monitoring information to measuring progress toward environmental performance, comparative risk and ecosystem targeting. The same holds true for many of the EPA Regions, States and Tribal Nations. The tools developed in EMAP, however, work at many spatial scales from very small watersheds or ecoregions to large areas such as EPA Regions and even nationally. With R-EMAP, past EMAP studies and the ongoing MAIA effort, ORD and the Regions have demonstrated the application of these tools to individual ecological resources and individual stresses at regional and smaller scales. In MAIA, we brought the tools to bear on all of the ecological resources in a small EPA Region. To advance both the science of monitoring and the application of monitoring to policy, the EMAP western geographic study is an opportunity to push the science and its application to new levels, both in terms of the type of systems addressed (mountainous and arid systems) and the size of the region covered, essentially one third of the conterminous U.S. The objectives of EMAP-West could potentially be met by a single study across all three regions, three separate studies or some combination of these approaches. At a minimum, studies undertaken should cover geographic areas at least the size of Level III Ecoregions (about 2-3 per state) or larger. A primary task of the Steering Committee is to define this scope so that the technical teams within the Regions and ORD can proceed with more detailed planning based on the Steering Committee guidance.