LINJ Meeting Summary May 1994

Science Center Objects

05/13/94-Meeting Summary

June 14, 1994

Dear Committee Member,


Subject: Summary of the May 13 NAWQA study liaison meeting


On May 13, the LINJ NAWQA study had its first liaison committee meeting in Edison, NJ.  Some 26 representratives of various water agencies and environmental groups met to discuss the issues and give insight into what NAWQA might do to help improve understanding of water-quality problems in the study area.  We thank all of you who could attend for your input.  We feel you helped considerably to improve our focus on the issues.


It is clear that the study area is rich with data and studies.  We heard your appeal to build on an already good understanding of what and where the problems are by adding to the ability to understand the underlying processes associated with the problems and thereby gain insight about what can be done about them.  A nutshell synopsis follows here.  A more detailed summary of the 3 work groups for your information and comment is attached.


Due to the abundance of data, the groundwater group encouraged a focus on analysis of existing data and on collecting data on processes affecting the source, transport, and fate of problematic constituents within aquifer systems of the study unit.  The groundwater issues that were emphasized included developing a better understanding of: relations between shallow groundwater quality and land-use patterns (especially in hard rock systems), trends in groundwater quality, well contamination threat or vulnerability, age dating of groundwater samples, and groundwater and surface-water interactions.


The surface-water issues that were emphasized included developing a better understanding of the impacts and processes associated with: toxics (trace elements and synthetic organic compounds), nutrients, sediments (particularly related to fate/transport of toxics and nutrients), stormwater quality, and interbasin transfers of water.  There was discussion throughout about developing approaches that interrelate and integrate data on sources and loads of nutrients and toxics, data on sediment quality and toxics in tissues (and data on sediment bioassays perhaps), knowledge of land use and other factors (geology, hydrology, etc), and data on aquatic community structure.  From the surface water and ecology groups, there was strong encouragement to tailor priorities and approaches based on an understanding of local conditions that builds on the available data, experience, and studies.


We believe that the strength of existing data, available expertice, and the known extent of water-quality problems in the study area places the LINJ NAWQA study in a unique position to address regional water quality issues at a higher level than most NAWQA studies.  Our goal in assembling a team will be to complement available expertice and thereby focus our resources to better collaborate with you folks to push the state-of-the-science in these areas.  We look forward to future discussions and hope we can hold your interest.  We certainly are excited about the prospects.


Speaking of holding your interest, don't forget to mark October 6, 1994 on your calendars for our next liaison meeting.  At your suggestion, we'll condense the meeting time a little by starting at 10am and finishing by 2:00 or 2:30pm.  Planned topics include: definition of existing data sources and discussion of data-base issues, definition of the scope of historical data analysis and preferred reporting outlet(s) of this analysis, and perhaps discussion of some study design issues (stratification of study area, bed sediment and tissue surveys).


Regarding the availability of historical data, we'll be trying to do some kind of initial (not exhaustive) survey of what's available before the meeting and would like any feedback you might have to expedite/minimize the effort or simply not duplicate others efforts.  A phone call or short note would be appreciated.  We also welcome any comments you might have on the liaison process, like what to change or who to add.


Points of Contact:

New Jersey office:                              Long Island office:

Mark Ayers      609-771-3932          Paul Stackelberg   516-938-8830

Janice Ward             3902                  Bruno Nemickas     516-938-8830

Herb Buxton             3944                Henry Ku           516-938-8830

Eric Evenson            3970

Eric Vowinkel           3925

Jack Gibs               3945


                LINJ Liaison Committee meeting, May 13, 1994

                  Surface-Water Quality Work Group Summary


The LINJ NAWQA study area encompasses a diverse setting, including the New England (Highlands), Piedmont, and Coastal Plain physiographic provinces. Surface waters range in quality from pristine to severly impacted.  For example, there are trout streams in the headwater reaches of the Raritan and Passaic River Basins, but in the lower reaches of these basins, wastewater discharge makes up a large part of low flow.  Also, naturally acidic streams are found in the NJ Pinelands and LI Pine Barrens, and streams and estuaries along the coastal areas are tidally influenced.  Therefore, a broad range of surface-water quality issues must be considered.  With this in mind, the surface-water quality work group first listed all major issues that affect the study area, about 20, and then regrouped the list into 9 broader issues, discussed them, and ranked their importance.  A summary of the 9 issues with comments is as follows:

High Priority Issues--

  1. Toxics (pesticides and other synthetic organics, and metals)
    1. question of where to look (water, sediments, and organisms)
    2. indication that ambient water concentrations do not relate well to
    3. observed bed sediment or tissue data
    4. transport and fate issues probably tied to sediments and biota
    5. accumulation in sediments and bioaccumulation effects is an issue;
    6. where, how much, what impact
    7. issue in short-listed water bodies and harbor-complex systems
    8. what are the cumulative impacts of many small sources
    9. sources include:
      1. land-use variability and the fact that differences exist between and among land uses, especially in chemicals used and amounts delivered
      2. stormwater and CSO inputs
      3. point-source inputs
      4. hazardous-waste sites
      5. household-use inputs and indescriminant disposal
      6. atmospheric deposition
  2. Sediments (suspended and bed sediment)
    1. quantity issues related to loading to streams, rivers, lakes,
    2. reservoirs, harbors, estuaries, and other coastal areas
    3. quality issues related to role as a reservoir and transport media
    4. for nutrients and toxics, and to a role in the fate of pollutants in
    5. bed sediments
    6. habitat issues related to mechanical effects on biota (abrasion) and
    7. to deposition impacts
    8. resuspension of toxics on sediments
    9. dredging disturbance and disposal
    10. sources of sediment related to land use, surface runoff, and erosion
  3. Stormwater quality
    1. CSO's very much an issue in older urban areas
    2. balance betweem stormwater management practices for water quality and flood control
    3. source of nutrients, pesticides, metals, sediment, bacteria, BOD, synthetic organics, and other toxics
  4. Nutients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon)
    1. where to look (water, sediments, and organisms)
    2. transformations and cycling are major issues in transport, fate, and availability for biota
    3. sources include:
      1. land use variability and the fact that differences exist between and among land uses, especially in amounts used and delivered
      2. stormwater and CSO inputs
      3. natural loading can be significant in some systems
      4. point source inputs
      5. atmospheric deposition
  5. Interbasin transfer of water impacts on quality (influent or effluent) 
    1. any water-quantity changes that directly or indirectly impact or affect quality and biology
    2. common occurence in much of the study area

Other Issues--

  1. Bacteria and other pathogens
    1. probably most common quality problem in study area
    2. swimmable issues, water-contact recreation
    3. shellfish-harvesting issues
    4. drinking-water issues
    5. sources include:
      1. livestock operations
      2. urban stormwater and CSO inputs
      3. non-point source runoff from most areas
      4. point source inputs
  2. Impacts of groundwater discharge on surface-water quality during baseflow conditions in streams
    1. where and when does groundwater discharge with elevated concentrations of nutrients or toxics become a surface-water problem
    2. what is the long-term fate of groundwater contaminants relative to changes in land management or chemical use practices
  3. Sensitivity of unique aquatic ecosystems and high quality streams to changes in quality or quantity
    1. how can these systems be protected against change
    2. how do atmospheric inputs or small changes in land use affect them
  4. Precipitation quality
    1. what is the relative importance to loading of nutrients or toxics
    2. lack of management control on sources hinders resolution


The surface-water quality work group felt that it was important to consider these priorities relative to local setting or conditions.  That is, in a given area or subdrainage, not all these concerns would be present and the relative priorities could change.  For example, nutrients are more important than toxics in most headwater areas, but the reverse is more likely the case in heavily urbanized downstream reaches.  Also, surface-water resources may not be as heavily utilized as groundwater resources, on Long Island for instance.  In addition, they pointed out that many areas of the study have considerable water-quality data from a variety of sources.  Some of the data have been analyzed, some have not; therefore, the group encouraged that an effort be made to include all data to develop an improved basis for defining priorities among and within areas.  In summary, for this complex study area, the group recommended tailoring priorities (and approaches) based on an understanding of local conditions that builds on the available data, experience, and studies.


Ecology Work Group Summary


There was an expressed belief that a lot of insight could be gained by integrating biologic and more traditional water-quality approaches.  One way or another, the group felt that biologic issues come down to the question of how land use affects the structure or health of aquatic biologic communities.  The group quickly decided that rather than list and prioritize each water-quality issue, it would be better to describe the principal biologic communities and how the NAWQA study could prioritize their use to "quantify the extent to which various land uses impact or otherwise effect these communities".  The focus of the group was to define what to look for within specific areas of the study unit.


Eight (8) ecological communities were identified as potential types for studying aquatic biologic variability and health.  Although indicator organisms and presence/absence measures can be used, the group strongly urged an approach that has community structure and function as the preferred study goal, and that more than one community be used to assess variability and impacts.  The 8 communities with comments are as follows:

  1. Benthic macroinvertibrate community
    1. very effective for many systems
    2. State experience indicates not a lot of information gained, for the effort involved, by going beyond RBP-level 2
  2. Fish community and assemblage
    1. Pinelands/Barrens communities very unique
    2. strength is in using along with benthic invertibrate information
  3. Amphibians (frogs, turtles, salamanders, etc.)
    1. particularly sensitive for some systems
    2. not currently a NAWQA protocol
    3. many endangered/threatened species in this group
  4. Algal community (periphyton and phytoplankton)
    1. periphyton preferred but there are sampling problems to consider
  5. Microbiological community (bacteria, protozoa, and other pathogens)
    1. serve as good indicators of point and non-point sources of contamination in shellfish growing areas and in areas of surface water contact sports
    2. State and County programs seem quite adequate
  6. Aquatic macrophytes (submerged, emergent, riparian/wetland)
    1. good as indicators of long-term change, both because changes in these communities are generally slow and because good reference collections often exist with which to compare
  7. Tissues (fish and benthic invertibrates) and biomarkers (tumors and enzyme tests)
    1. recommend selective use with contaminated and reference sites
    2. group stressed that it would be good to make it part of the analysis routine to record qualitative observations of fish and benthic invertibrate samples for biomarker anomalies
  8. Bioassays (whole water and bed sediment components)
    1. State experience indicates tests of ambient water of marginal use, does not relate well to observed community structure or impacts
    2. acute and chronic toxicity tests of bed sediments are now available and appear to be more useful in relating to observed community structure and impacts


There are preferred communities to sample and these differ across the study area.  Use of more than one community is a must.  The group recommended to set up a matrix to list the priority communities for each specific area of the study (defined by ecoregion, watershed, or similar basis) and tailor the detail of the approach to the specific goal of assessment (variability or impact), to the area being studied, and to the resources available.


For example, in the Pinelands of NJ much is already known about vegetation (#6 above) and fish from which to compare and contrast.  Amphibians are also very sensitive to change in this system and offer some potential.  Less is known about the natural variability of other communities of the Pinelands. Not much could be determined in this session for how transferable data are from the NJ Pinelands to the LI Pine Barrens.  In fact, except for the Nature Conservancy interest in pond-type systems, the whole issue of SW ecology of Long Island is a big question mark.  The State's experience in northern NJ would indicate that much can be gleaned from information about benthic macroinvertibrate and fish communities.


Groundwater Quality Work Group Summary


Members of the groundwater quality working group concentrated their efforts on identifying water-quality issues of highest priority within the study unit.  It was quickly noted within the group that, contrary to many other NAWQA study units, the collection of basic water-quality data (occurence and distribution) was not a preeminent issue due to the relative abundance of such data within much of the study unit.  Rather, the group focused on analysis of existing data, and on the collection of data to improve our understanding of relations between land use and shallow groundwater quality and on processes affecting the source, transport, and fate of chemical constituents within aquifer systems of the study unit.  An exception to this may exist in the fractured hardrock environments of northern New Jersey and southern New York where less information exists concerning our understanding of the flow system and general groundwater quality conditions.


Concern was expressed over the use of existing data and its ability to accurately define current water-quality conditions in water quality both spatially and temporally.  These concerns arise from limitations in the use of existing data bases due to differences in (1) sampling procedures and analytical methods, (2) sampling designs and study objectives, (3) spatial distribution of well networks, and (4) water-quality constituents analyzed. These differences may limit but usually do not preclude their use for some level of regional analysis.  A major benefit of the NAWQA program will be to provide an assessment of the data gaps that exist and to provide regionally consistent water-quality analyses allowing for improved description of existing conditions in some systems and, especially, some added continuity for long-term monitoring of trends in water quality.


Over 20 issues were identified after which each group member voted on his or her three highest priority issues.  A summary and discussion of the five highest priority issues follows:


  1. Relations between shallow groundwater quality and land-use patterns
    1. Review existing information within study unit concerning relations between shallow groundwater quality and land-use patterns to help prioritize major issues and identify water-quality constituents of primary concern.
    2. This type of research has been performed in Coastal Plain aquifer        systems, however, due to limitations in available ancillary data, groundwater quality has frequently been related to only three or four land-use categories.  It was noted that from a policy makers viewpoint this type of information is of limited use.  For example, simply knowing that a certain percentage of wells will be contaminated by VOCs in a medium-density residential area does not give much of a basis for changing that occurence.  We need to improve resolution of land-use data and/or define surrogate variables that better describe human activities in representative areas.  At the same time, we need to focus our attention on highest priority water-quality constituents within the study unit and provide the parties responsible for making land-use policies with more useful tools.
    3. This type of research has generally not been performed within fractured hardrock environments of northern New Jersey and southern New York, therefore, a more typical NAWQA approach may be needed for this part of the study unit initially, and later invoke lessons learned from the Coastal Plain efforts.  The difficulty will be in getting a handle on the hydrology of these hard rock environments in terms of sources of water to observation and monitoring wells.
  2. Trends in groundwater quality
    1. Once priority constituents are identified through evaluation of relations between shallow groundwater quality and land-use patterns, the need exists to identify trends (or lack of) in water quality for these constituents.  Both spatial and temporal trends need to be evaluated.
    2. The general concern was centered on whether groundwater quality conditions are improving in areas known to have been impacted and for which water-quality remediation efforts have been initiated (such as sewering).  Preliminary work for constituents such as nitrate-nitrogen and chloride has been performed for parts of Long Island, however, further investigation is needed for constituents such as volatile organic compounds and pesticides.
    3. There is concern for how to effectively monitor both the trends in groundwater quality and the concurrent ancillary variables related to the trends.
  3. Well contamination threat and vulnerability
    1. Once priority constituents and trends in their concentrations are identified the need exists to identify the primary processes responsible for transport and fate of these constituents within aquifer systems of the study unit.
    2. Issues identified include:
      1. which constituents pose the greatest threat to the use of groundwater resources,
      2. what processes govern the transport and fate of these constituents within the subsurface,
      3. what portions of the aquifer systems are susceptible to contamination by these constituents.
  4. Age dating of groundwater samples
    1. Dating of groundwater samples was acknowledged as an important means by which to:
      1. identify relations between shallow groundwater quality and land-use patterns,
      2. aid in evaluation of transport and fate of contaminants,
      3. evaluate the extent and threat of contamination from high priority constituents, and
      4. evaluate the overall impact of human activities on ground-water resources within study unit.
  5. Groundwater and surface-water interactions
    1. This issue was approached both from the impact of groundwater quality on surface-water bodies in areas where streamflow is derived predominantly from groundwater discharge, and on the impact of surface-water quality on groundwater resources in areas where heavy groundwater pumpage may induce flow (recharge) to groundwater systems from surface-water bodies.
    2. Issues identified include the impact of:
      1. non-point and point sources of contamination on ground water and subsequently on surface-water bodies during low-flow periods,
      2. numerous point sources of contamination of surface-water bodies in highly urbanized areas where excessive ground-water pumpage may induce flow to groundwater systems, and
      3. non-point sources of contamination of surface-water bodies in agricultural areas where excessive pumpage for irrigation may induce flow to groundwater systems.