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EPA Scientists Develop Robust Protocols to Assess the Condition of Non-Wadeable Streams and Rivers

Army COE Workshop

US Army Corps of Engineers Stream Monitoring Workshop

The Clean Water Act requires the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) to report to Congress on the condition of the nation's waters and to identify those that are impaired. For many years, assessing larger or "non-wadeable" streams and rivers has been a challenge. While the protocols for assessing smaller or "wadeable" streams have been available for some time, research in non-wadeable streams has lagged behind. Consequently, the condition and sources of impairment of these valued waters are largely unknown.

The protection of rivers is important because they are a primary source of drinking water. Society as a whole also places a high value on rivers for the recreational value they provide.

However, few rivers remain that are in good enough condition to establish a benchmark of what these systems should look like naturally. "Many of these systems are so altered and impacted by man throughout their entire length that discriminating between the best and worst sites within a system can be challenging," added J.E. Flotemersch, Research Ecologist.

EPA's Ecological Exposure Research Division scientists have systematically tested existing bioassessment sampling methodologies (e.g., algae, benthic macroinvertibrates, fish, and physical habitat) to determine their applicability for non-wadeable streams and have developed new assessment methods.

The scientists developed metrics and piloted and refined logistically-feasible protocols to yield data for assessing and reporting the condition of streams and rivers. “We wanted to develop research that would give resource managers the field studies and quality data they needed to meet their reporting objectives,” explains Flotemersch.

"Until now, no integrated approach for a robust assessment of free-flowing and restricted flow systems existed. These protocols will help states, tribes, basin commissions, regions, and other federal agencies fulfill reporting requirements with statistically sound and scientifically relevant data."

The team worked directly with their customers and scientists from other agencies and organizations to ensure that the research had broad customer acceptance and could be directly translated to application.

"In all phases of the research process-design and planning, application of products, and product demonstrations-we had stakeholder involvement. These interactions and collaboration helped us to ensure that the final products were in-line with customer needs and their available resources," Flotemersch adds.

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