Recreational Water Quality Criteria and Methods
EPA develops criteria to protect people from organisms, such as viruses and bacteria, and their associated toxins in water bodies (e.g., lakes, rivers, beaches). Swimming and other recreational activities in contaminated water can make people ill.
EPA recommends criteria for limiting certain organisms and their associated toxins in water bodies to protect human health. State and tribal governments can use the criteria as guidance when setting their own water quality standards to protect human health.
National Recreational Water Quality Workshop: April 6-8, 2021
2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria
EPA issued its current ambient water quality criteria recommendations for recreational waters in 2012 reflecting the latest scientific knowledge, public comments, and external peer review. The criteria are designed to protect the public from exposure to harmful levels of pathogens while participating in water-contact activities, such as swimming, wading and surfing, in all water bodies designated for such recreational uses.
- 2012 Recreational Water Quality Criteria and Associated Reviews
- Scientific Workshops and Research Supporting Development of the 2012 RWQC
Criteria Adoption and Implementation
- Implementation Materials for the 2012 Recreational Water Qualtiy Criteria
- Overview of Technical Support Materials: A Guide to the Site-Specific Alternative Recreational Criteria TSM Documents
- Site-Specific Alternative Recreational Criteria Technical Support Materials For Alternative Indicators and Methods
- Rapid Microbiological Methods for Ambient Waters
Recreational Water Quality Criteria or Swimming Advisories for Cyanotoxins
EPA has issued final recommended recreational ambient water quality criteria or swimming advisories for two cyanotoxins, microcystins and cylindrospermopsin. The Agency has identified recommended concentrations of these cyanotoxins at or below which human health is protected while swimming or participating in other recreational activities in and on the water. States, territories, and authorized tribes can consider adopting these recommended criteria into their water quality standards and using them for Clean Water Act purposes. Alternatively, they can use these same values as the basis of swimming advisories for public notification purposes at recreational waters.
- Federal Register Notice: Recommended Human Health Recreational Ambient Water Quality Criteria or Swimming Advisories for Microcystins and Cylindrospermopsin (June 6, 2019)
- Fact Sheet: Recommended Human Health Recreational Ambient Water Quality Criteria or Swimming Advisories for Microcystins and Cylindrospermopsin (pdf)
- Document: Recommended Human Health Recreational Ambient Water Quality Criteria or Swimming Advisories for Microcystins and Cylindrospermopsin (pdf)
- Response to Comment: Recommended Human Health Recreational Ambient Water Quality Criteria or Swimming Advisories for Microcystins and Cylindrospermopsin (pdf)
Criteria Adoption and Implementation
EPA has published a final technical support document that explains how states, territories, and authorized tribes may adopt EPA’s 2019 recommended criteria for two cyanotoxins into their water quality standards or use the criteria in swimming advisory programs. The document also addresses implementation of the 2019 criteria recommendations through other Clean Water Act programs including identifying and listing of impaired waters, and total maximum daily load (TMDL) development.
- (July 2021)
(For assistance reading this document, please call Lars Wilcut at 202-566-0447.)
- Monitoring and Responding to Cyanobacteria and Cyanotoxins in Recreational Waters
Development of Recreational Water Quality Criteria for Coliphage
2016 Coliphage Experts Workshop
EPA held a Coliphage Experts Workshop in March 2016 as part of EPA’s ongoing efforts to build the scientific basis for developing coliphage-based water quality criteria. EPA convened a group of twelve internationally recognized experts on the state of the science of coliphage and their usefulness as a viral indicator for the protection of public health in recreational waters. Experts represented a spectrum of perspectives from academia, federal agencies (EPA, CDC, FDA), and the wastewater industry. Agenda discussion topics included: the need for a viral indicator; coliphage as a predictor of gastrointestinal illnesses; how coliphage may be useful as an indicator of wastewater treatment performance; male-specific vs somatic coliphage; a systematic literature review of viral densities; and future research. The Coliphage Experts Workshop Proceedings document details the topics and overall findings from the Workshop. Additionally, the document provides the experts’ written responses to charge questions provided prior to the Workshop. The Proceedings document was recently peer-reviewed.
Review of Coliphages as Possible Indicators of Fecal Contamination for Ambient Water Quality
This is a literature review of the scientific information that EPA will evaluate to develop coliphage-based ambient water quality criteria for the protection of swimmers. It generally indicates that coliphages are equally good indicators of fecal contamination as EPA’s currently recommended criteria for E. coli and enterococci. In addition, coliphages are better indicators of viruses in treated wastewater than bacteria. While EPA conducts its evaluation of coliphages as possible viral indicators for water quality, we continue to recommend that states adopt our 2012 recreational water quality criteria into their water quality standards.