Long Island-New Jersey (LINJ) Coastal Drainages Study Overview

Science Center Objects

The mission of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is to assess the quantity and quality of the earth resources of the Nation and to provide information that will assist resource managers and policymakers at Federal, State, and local levels in making sound decisions. Assessment of water-quality conditions and trends is an important part of this overall mission.

One of the greatest challenges faced by water-resources scientists is acquiring reliable information that will guide the use and protection of the Nation's water resources. That challenge is being addressed by Federal, State, interstate, and local water-resource agencies and by many academic institutions. These organizations are collecting water-quality data for a host of purposes that include: compliance with permits and water-supply standards; development of remediation plans for a specific contamination problem; operational decisions on industrial, wastewater, or water-supply facilities; and research on factors that affect water quality. An additional need for water-quality information is to provide a basis on which regional and national-level policy decisions can be based. Wise decisions must be based on sound information. As a society we need to know whether certain types of water-quality problems are isolated or ubiquitous, whether there are significant differences in conditions among regions, whether the conditions are changing over time, and why these conditions change from place to place and over time. The information can be used to help determine the efficacy of existing water-quality policies and to help analysts determine the need for and likely consequences of new policies.

To address these needs, the Congress appropriated funds in 1986 for the USGS to begin a pilot program in seven project areas to develop and refine the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. In 1991, the USGS began full implementation of the program. The NAWQA Program builds upon an existing base of water-quality studies of the USGS, as well as those of other Federal, State, and local agencies.

The objectives of the NAWQA Program are to:

  • Describe current water-quality conditions for a large part of the Nation's freshwater streams, rivers, and aquifers.
  • Describe how water quality is changing over time.
  • Improve understanding of the primary natural and human factors that affect water-quality conditions.

This information will help support the development and evaluation of management, regulatory, and monitoring decisions by other Federal, State, and local agencies to protect, use, and enhance water resources.

The goals of the NAWQA Program are being achieved through ongoing and proposed investigations of 60 of the Nation's most important river basins and aquifer systems, which are referred to as study units. These study units are distributed throughout the Nation and cover a diversity of hydrogeologic settings. More than two-thirds of the Nation's freshwater use occurs within the 60 study units and more than two-thirds of the people served by public water-supply systems live within their boundaries.

National synthesis of data analysis, based on aggregation of comparable information obtained from the study units, is a major component of the program. This effort focuses on selected water-quality topics using nationally consistent information. Comparative studies will explain differences and similarities in observed water-quality conditions among study areas and will identify changes and trends and their causes. The first topics addressed by the national synthesis are pesticides, nutrients, volatile organic compounds, and aquatic biology. Discussions on these and other water-quality topics will be published in periodic summaries of the quality of the Nation's ground and surface water as the information becomes available.

This world-wide-web site is an element of the comprehensive body of information developed as part of the NAWQA Program. The program depends heavily on the advice, cooperation, and information from many Federal, State, interstate, Tribal, and local agencies and the public. The assistance and suggestions of all are greatly appreciated.


Forward by Robert M. Hirsch, Chief Hydrologist, USGS


Scope of the Investigation

In 1991, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began a National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program to document the status of and trends in quality of a large representative part of the Nation's water resources and to provide a sound scientific understanding of the primary natural and human factors that affect the quality of these resources. The program is designed to produce long-term, consistent water-quality information that will be useful to policymakers and managers at national, State, and local levels.

Investigations of 60 hydrologic systems (study units), which include parts of most major river basins and aquifer systems in the United States, are the building blocks of NAWQA. A framework has been established to ensure nationwide consistency in the approach to each study--in field and laboratory methods, in water-quality measurements, and in the supporting data requirements. Twenty studies were started in 1991, 20 more have begun in 1994, and 20 are scheduled to begin in 1997.

A major design feature of the program that will facilitate integration of water-quality information at national, regional, and local scales is coordination between the individual study-unit teams and the national synthesis effort at all stages of the inve stigations. Thus, results that relate to various topics addressed in the study-unit investigations will be integrated smoothly into NAWQA's national synthesis component. Teams have been developed to address the following topics of national importance: pesticides, nutrients, and volatile organic compounds. These teams are investigating the specific issues by means of comparative studies of a large set of hydrologic systems distributed over a wide range of environmental settings found in the 60 study-units.

The information below summarizes the goals and scope of the NAWQA Program and the Long Island-New Jersey Coastal Drainages study, which began in 1994.

Reasons for NAWQA

  • Protection and enhancement of water quality is a high priority for the Nation.
  • Many clean-water programs do not have data collection or data are not accessible to measure the status or effectiveness of program implementation.
  • Long-term, nationwide, multiscale, interagency, interdisciplinary studies are rare; more such studies are needed to provide information to make sound environmental policy decisions.
  • Additional documentation of nonpoint-source effects on water quality is needed.
  • NAWQA can help reduce uncertainty in water-resources planning, regulation, and management by providing reliable and comparable data at multiple scales.

Goals of NAWQA

  • Describe the quality of the Nation's surface- and groundwater resources.
  • Detect trends in water quality.
  • Identify the primary natural and human factors that affect the quality of these water resources.

Scope of NAWQA

  • Consists of 60 studies--20 each beginning in 1991, 1994, and 1997--and topically focused national synthesis teams.
  • Specifies a rotational, 9-year cycle for each study--3 years of intensive sampling and 6 years of low-level activity.
  • Incorporates about 45 percent of the area of coterminous United States and from 60 to 70 percent of the Nation's water use and population served by public water supply in the 60 study units.
  • Includes plans for a nationally consistent, multimedia, computerized data base on the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of stream and aquifer systems.
  • Provides geographical information system support for developing a national ancillary data base to ensure consistency of interpretations.
  • Employs multiscale study approaches based on analyses of samples of water, suspended and bed sediment, biologic tissues, and aquatic communities.

Scope of the Long Island-New Jersey Coastal Drainages Study-Unit Investigation

  • Includes all of Long Island and the New Jersey coastal drainages; excludes the Delaware River Basin (a study scheduled to begin in 1997).
  • Plans for 1994-95 are to compile and analyze available data and to design the study approaches.
  • Plans for 1996-98 are to conduct intensive sampling for a wide array of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics.
  • Plans for 1999-2002 are to complete interpretations of and reports on the intensive sampling data and to begin low-level sampling.

Groundwater Study Approach

  • Study-unit survey-- to identify water-quality problems in study-unit aquifers to the extent possible with the analysis of available data.
  • Land-use surveys-- to document the effects of land use on shallow water quality in two or three aquifer systems (50-100 wells) not currently well documented.
  • Flowpath studies-- to determine the transport and fate of selected constituents in two or three aquifer systems (50-100 wells of various depths).
  • Water sampling-- to collect samples for analysis for nutrients, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds in water; at some sites, use isotopes and other measures to determine the age and source of the water.

Surface Water Study Approach

  • Basic monitoring studies--to determine loads and seasonal patterns of nutrients and suspended sediment at sites indicative of selected land uses and at sites that integrate various land uses (8-10 sites, sampled monthly and during high flows) .
  • Intensive monitoring studies--to determine seasonal patterns of pesticides at a subset of the above sites (3-4 sites, sampled weekly to monthly and during high flows).
  • Synoptic surveys--to determine spatial relations of selected constituents from 20 to 40 sites at a point in time under selected hydrologic conditions.
  • Stream-reach studies--to determine source, fate, and transport of constituents in selected stream reaches through field sampling and computer simulation of physical, chemical, or biological processes.
  • Water sampling--to collect samples for analysis of nutrients, suspended sediment, and pesticides.
  • Suspended- and bed-sediment sampling--to collect samples for analysis for trace elements, pesticides, and other synthetic organic compounds.
  • Biological sampling--to collect biological tissue samples for analysis for trace elements, pesticides, and other synthetic organic compounds; to collect samples of algae, benthic invertebrates, and fish communities; and to describe the associated stream-reach habitats.

Study-Unit Liason Committee

  • Includes affiliates of Federal, State, local, university, private, and citizen groups or organizations.
  • Helps coordinate data and work tasks, reviews plans and results, and guides study toward policy-relevant efforts.
  • Meets about twice a year for a day.