Water Quality Standards Handbook
The Water Quality Standards Handbook is a compilation of EPA's water quality standards (WQS) program guidance including recommendations for states, authorized tribes, and territories in reviewing, revising, and implementing WQS. The guidance in this handbook supports EPA’s WQS regulations at 40 CFR Part 131.
The Water Quality Standards Handbook was first issued in 1983 and provided a compilation of EPA's WQS guidance to-date.
In 1994, The Water Quality Standards Handbook: Second Edition was issued and retained all of the guidance in the 1983 handbook unless such guidance was specifically revised in subsequent years. The 1994 handbook also contained new EPA guidance that was developed between 1983 and 1994.
In 2007, EPA updated the online version of the handbook to provide links to additional information and resources that EPA developed subsequent to 1994 in an “Updated Information” box. In 2012, EPA revised the “Updated information” boxes to reflect any additional EPA guidance since 2007. EPA did not revise the text of the chapters in either 2007 or 2012.
In 2014, EPA updated the text of the online versions of Chapters 1, 5, 6, and 7 to reflect current EPA guidance, and incorporated the information from the “Updated Information” boxes. EPA also streamlined the text of these chapters to make the document more user friendly.
In November 2017, EPA published an update to Chapter 3 of its Water Quality Standards (WQS) Handbook. Chapter 3 contains information relevant to water quality criteria.
For any questions related to the guidance in this Handbook, please contact us. Copies of any referenced document can be obtained by selecting the hyperlink or visiting the Reference Library of Water Quality Standards Policy and Guidance Documents page.On this page:
Use the Handbook
- Chapter 1: General Provisions (pdf) (316.96 KB) (updated 9/2014)
- Chapter 2: Designation of Uses (pdf) (757.85 KB) (updated 2012)
- Chapter 3: Water Quality Criteria (pdf) (1.14 MB) (updated 2017)
- Chapter 4: Antidegradation (pdf) (746.16 KB) (updated 2012)
- Chapter 5: General Policies (pdf) (546.8 KB) (updated 9/2014)
- Chapter 6: Procedures for Review and Revision of Water Quality Standards (pdf) (475.86 KB) (updated 8/2014)
- Chapter 7: Water Quality Standards and the Water Quality-based Approach to Pollution Control (pdf) (468.25 KB) (updated 1/2015)
This is one way to cite/reference the EPA’s online WQS Handbook:
Government Agency (Year published). Document title. Publication number. Government Agency Office and Location. Accessed [date]. Retrieved from http://www.url.com
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2017. Water Quality Standards Handbook: Chapter 3: Water Quality Criteria. EPA-823-B-17-001. EPA Office of Water, Office of Science and Technology, Washington, DC. Accessed November 2018. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-10/documents/handbook-chapter3.pdf
Handbook Appendices and Other Information
- Cover Page, Table of Contents, and Glossary (pdf) (1.27 MB)
- References (pdf) (643.14 KB)
- Appendix A: Water Quality Standards Regulation (pdf) (2.24 MB)
- Appendix B: Chronological Summary of Federal Water Quality Standards Promulgation Acts (pdf) (241.23 KB)
- Appendix C: Biological Criteria: National Program Guidance for Surface Waters (pdf) (4.39 MB)
- Appendix D: National Guidance: Water Quality Standards for Wetlands (pdf) (4.41 MB)
- Appendix E: An Approach for Evaluating Numeric Water Quality Criteria for Wetlands Protection (pdf) (2.82 MB)
- Appendix F: Coordination between the EPA, Fish & Wildlife Services and National Marine Fisheries Service (pdf) (780.4 KB)
- Appendix G: Questions and Answers on Antidegradation (pdf) (1.27 MB)
- Appendix H: Derivation of the 1985 Aquatic Life Criteria (pdf) (1.51 MB)
- Appendix I: List of EPA Water Quality Criteria Documents (pdf) (223.69 KB)
- Appendix J: Attachments of Office to Water Policy and Technical Guidance on Interpretation and Implementation of Aquatic Life Metals Criteria (pdf) (1.4 MB)
- Appendix K: Procedures for the Initiation of Narrative Biological Criteria (pdf) (1.06 MB)
- Appendix L: Interim Guidance on Determination and use of Water-Effect Ratios for Metals (pdf) (13.01 MB)
- Appendix N: Integrated Risk Information System Background Paper (pdf) (1.02 MB)
- Appendix O: Reserved (pdf) (21.6 KB)
- Appendix P: List of 126 CWA Section 307(a) Priority Toxic Pollutants (pdf) (149.3 KB)
- Appendix Q: Wetlands and 401 Certification (pdf) (4.64 MB)
- Appendix R: Policy on the use of Biological Assessments and Criteria in the Water Quality Program (pdf) (1.05 MB)
- Appendix S: Reserved (pdf) (21.1 KB)
- Appendix T: Use Attainability Analysis (pdf) (3.97 MB)
- Appendix U: List of EPA Regional Water Quality Standards Coordinators (pdf) (95.78 KB)
- Appendix V: Water Quality Standards Program Document Request Forms (pdf) (983.51 KB)
- Appendix W: Update Request Form for WQS Handbook: 2nd Edition (pdf) (98.91 KB)
- Appendix X: Summary of Updates to 1994 Handbook (pdf) (23.36 KB)
The document below suggests how states and authorized tribes can conduct online public hearings in lieu of in-person public hearings, consistent with federal public hearing requirements.
The Reference Library of Water Quality Standards Policy and Guidance Documents page contains an index of EPA documents related to WQS including those referenced in this Handbook.
The Federal Water Quality Standards Requirements page contains links to federal WQS regulations, Administrator’s determinations, proposed federal WQS standards, promulgations, and withdrawals published in the Federal Register.
The Tribes and Water Quality Standards page provides current guidance and information on water quality standards applicable to Indian Tribes.
EPA regional offices may have additional guidance that provides more detail on selected topics of regional interest. For information on regional guidance, contact the appropriate regional WQS coordinator.