Nutrient Criteria Development Initiative
Nutrients (i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus) are naturally occurring elements essential for life in our lakes, streams, wetlands, and coastal waters. However, the 1996 National Water Quality Inventory Report to Congress cited nutrients as one of the leading causes of water quality degradation and reported that 40 percent of streams and 51 percent of lakes are polluted by excess nutrients. Major sources of excess nutrients include runoff of agricultural fertilizers and discharges from wastewater treatment plants and confined animal feeding operations.
In October 1997, Vice President Gore called upon EPA to develop a comprehensive action plan that would include water quality criteria for nutrients in all water bodies throughout the country. The Clean Water Action Plan, published by EPA in February 1998, called for the establishment of numeric nutrient criteria in lakes, streams, wetlands, and coastal waters using an ecoregional framework.
The Nutrient Technical Work Group
The mission of the Region 7 Nutrient Technical Work Group is to develop scientifically defensible nutrient "benchmarks" for lakes, streams, and wetlands in the Central Plains ecoregions. Each state in EPA Region 7 is responsible for the final development of its own nutrient criteria. It is hoped that the benchmarks produced by the technical work group will either be incorporated by the states into their standards or will, at a minimum, help the states be in a better position to develop nutrient criteria.
Criteria for Lakes and Reservoirs
Region 7 and the technical work group are conducting a series of public meetings to involve stakeholders in the process of developing criteria (or benchmarks) for the nutrients in their waters. The first meeting was held at the Region 7 Regional Office in January 2000.
The day-long event was well attended by concerned citizens, farmers, environmental organization, wastewater treatment operators, and agri-industry representatives. In response to requests that some of the future meetings be held in the stakeholders' states, the next stakeholder meetings will be held in various cities throughout the four-state region. These meetings will provide information to the communities on the work group's draft nutrient criteria for lakes and reservoirs and will seek comments on those draft numbers and the science used to attain those numbers. Other stakeholder's meetings will be held to provide information and receive comments on the final criteria for lakes and reservoirs. Also, there will be meetings for comments on the development of nutrient criteria for streams and rivers, and other meetings will be held for the development of wetland criteria.
Work Group Participants
- Iowa Department of Natural Resources
- Iowa State University
- Kansas Department of Health and Environment
- University of Kansas
- Kansas State University
- Missouri Department of Natural Resources
- University of Missouri
- Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality
- University of Nebraska
- Haskell Indian Nations University
- USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service
- U.S. Geological Survey
- The Central Plains Center for BioAssessment
Some of the main consequences of eutrophication:
- increased vegetation that may impede water flow and the movement of boats;
- water may become unsuitable for drinking even after treatment;
- a decrease in the amenity value of the water (e.g. it may become unsuitable for water sports such as sailing);
- disappearance of commercially and environmentally important species.
An ecoregion denotes an area within which ecosystems are generally similar.
- States are to develop and implement criteria by December 31, 2003.
- States are to establish criteria within their ecoregions for their lakes, streams, wetlands, and reservoirs.
- Contributors to eutrophication: total nitrogen, total phosphorus, chlorophyll-a, and turbidity.
EPA Region 7 Contact
Kathleen L. Fenton
CARE Program Manager