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EPA New England Regional Laboratory (Office of Environmental Measurement and Evaluation)

The New England Wadeable Streams Project (NEWS)

Photo of the Mettawee River in VermontThe New England Wadeable Streams Project (NEWS) provides assessments of the ecological conditions of streams across the New England region using random probability-based sampling methods. This sampling technique provides uniform spatial coverage across specific geographic regions, such as watersheds, basins, states or regions, by overlaying the sampling area with a hexagonal grid and then randomly selecting stream segments to be sampled within each individual hexagon using a computer with a Geographic Information System (GIS).

One of the key elements of the project’s design is making sure that the right type, quality, and quantity of data are collected, providing useful information for assessments. State and federal regulatory agencies are the primary users of the data. As a result, the structure and design of this program are developed to answer frequently asked questions about their specific water quality programs. The types of data collected are based on information needed to address current front line environmental issues and meet long term programmatic needs -- for example, reporting water quality. Implementing the proposed sampling design and assessment methodologies are targeted to answer the following questions about wadeable streams in the region:

  • What proportion of wadeable stream miles state wide or regionally are demonstrating impaired physical habitat/biological/chemical conditions?
  • What kinds of stream systems demonstrate the lowest biological diversity?
  • What types of areas demonstrate the highest ecological quality?
  • What is the relationship between land use and biological condition in the region/states?
  • What proportion of stream miles contain X% of native fish species?
  • What proportion of stream miles support X% of expected species richness and or macro-invertebrate species richness?

Streamlining between states' water body assessments and their subsequent interpretations is a broader goal of the Wadeable Streams project. By developing and refining approaches where uniform interpretations of ecological aquatic health can be made, notwithstanding state boundaries and methods used, regional water body assessments can be similarly made and interpreted. This improves methods, providing a way for reaching the goal of moving towards normalizing water quality assessments nationally, and approaches the goal of fulfilling the original intent of the national water quality inventory.

Dipping bar in useThis project is a collaboration between the EPA New England Regional Laboratory (NERL), the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC), and EPA ORD’s Atlantic Ecology Division (AED) in Narragansett, RI. NEIWPCC was awarded a cooperative agreement to support this project. Substantial assistance has been provided by AED in the form of developing a design for probability sampling, GIS and statistical support, developing sampling protocols and future reports. The NERL is leading field efforts, sample protocol development, interstate and state based coordination, technical support and technology transfer and training.

This project entails designing and implementing biological and chemical monitoring and is taking place over a three year period. Already into the third year, a data report has been completed on 42 stream locations sampled across the New England states in 2001. Years two and three involve the active participation of state agencies. To date, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Connecticut have been participating as part of the regionwide effort. In addition, each of these states has decided to conduct probability-based surveys on an individual statewide scale to augment their existing water quality and biological monitoring programs. Year two monitoring consisted of another 23 randomly selected stations using the same hexagonal grid system. Each year duplicate samples are collected at 10% of these stations for quality assurance purposes. Year three will be dedicated to completing sampling of state-level sites, data analysis and writing a final project report. An estimated 70 stations will be monitored regionally during the three year sampling period and a minimum of 50 sites per each individual statewide effort.

Backback electro-fishing All sampling locations are tested for invertebrates, fish, and water chemistry with accompanying assessments of in-stream and riparian habitats. Each monitoring station includes fish and macroinvertebrate population assessments, physical habitat assessments, water chemistry analyses, and characterization of surrounding land uses using GIS technology. Fish sampling is conducted using backpack electro-fishing gear. Water chemistry analyses include pH, temperature, DO, TSS, turbidity, nutrients, alkalinity, hardness, TOC, DOC, color, total phosphorus, total mercury, lead, and cadmium. Additionally, pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) were monitored at about 40 selected sites during year two, and more may be collected during year three. PPCPs are a class of pollutants discharged from sewage treatment plants and have recently been identified as a potential problem for aquatic organisms.

The NEWS Project provides an unbiased approach from which state water quality programs can assess all waters of their state, meet the mandates of the Clean Water Act, and augment their traditional targeted monitoring approaches with a sampling design that has proved both cost effective and scientifically sound. The NEWS Project offers opportunities for unique collaborative efforts among state and federal agencies while advancing biological monitoring methods and data interpretation. The end results enhance the state of the science, more unified collaborative efforts, and comprehensive evaluations of streams across New England.

New England Wadeable Streams Fact Sheet (PDF) (2 pp, 218 K, about PDF)

New England Wadeable Streams Final Report - August 2007 (PDF) (186 pp, 3 MB, about PDF)
Database available upon request. Please send request to Hilary Snook (snook.hilary@epa.gov).

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