New Water-Quality Directions

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As the USGS Water Resources Mission Area looks to the future, we are updating our water programs to meet 21st century water-resource challenges. As part of these updates, we are integrating the National Water Quality Assessment Project's water-resource monitoring, assessment, trends, modeling, and forecasting activities into new WMA programs.

As the USGS Water Resources Mission Area (WMA) leadership looks to the future, we have begun a planning effort to update our water programs to meet 21st century water-resource challenges. As part of these updates, the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Project’s water-resource monitoring, assessment, trends, modeling, and forecasting activities are being strategically integrated into new WMA programs. These new programs include Integrated Water Availability Assessments (IWAAs), the Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS), National Hydrologic Monitoring Networks, Hazards, Integrated Water Prediction (IWP), and research to improve our understanding of Water-Quality Processes and Water Availability Impacts of Extreme Events. 

Planned water-quality activities in the new WMA programs include:

  • Enhancing current WMA observing networks with new sensor and satellite-based monitoring of selected water-quality properties and constituents initially in NGWOS basins but then across the rest of our national networks;

  • Building wall-to-wall, short- to long-term water forecasts of water quality;

  • Evaluating long-term trends in water quality and the related impacts on water availability; and 

  • Conducting integrated water-availability assessments inclusive of water quality, quantity, and use, at both regional and national scales. 

WMA leadership is committed to continuing water-quality monitoring, assessments and prediction to maintain and enhance the Mission Area’s strengths in this important area. Current and planned activities align with Presidential and congressional priorities outlined in the fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations for USGS, as well as anticipated continued congressional support in the FY 2020 appropriations process. The transition of our water-quality work represents an opportunity to better align all water monitoring and assessment activities in the WMA and bring water quality, water quantity, and water use data and information together into a comprehensive evaluation of water availability in the United States and the factors that influence it.

Integrating NAWQA Project activities into new WMA directions

The NAWQA Project has provided critical data and information on the quality of the Nation’s rivers, streams, and aquifers for nearly three decadal Cycles. Extensive planning efforts were undertaken for each decadal cycle, and each decade of the NAWQA Project focused on new water-quality directions. 

In 2018, the WMA was faced with deciding whether to plan for the fourth decadal cycle of the NAWQA Project. At the same time, considerable planning efforts were underway in the WMA to realign its priorities to broader USGS and governmental priorities; these new priorities largely coincided with the conceptual ideas of where a fourth NAWQA decadal cycle might have gone, particularly in the area of water-quality prediction. So, rather than continue NAWQA as a standalone Project conducting activities that are in parallel to other WMA initiatives such as IWAAs, NGWOS, and IWP, it was decided to integrate what might have been NAWQA Cycle 4 activities into these other WMA initiatives. The result of this decision is that NAWQA activities for the third decadal cycle will wind down by the end of FY 2021 and there will not be a fourth NAWQA decadal cycle. 

Effects of transitioning NAWQA Project activities into new WMA directions

  • NAWQA Project activities will conclude at the end of FY 2021 instead of FY 2022.

  • Long-term surface-water and groundwater-quality monitoring operated by the NAWQA Project will continue; however:

    • Biological sampling for fish, macroinvertebrates, and algal communities at National Water Quality Network (NWQN) stream and river sites ended after FY 2019. 

    • Sampling of NAWQA groundwater enhanced trends networks and vertical flow path studies ended after FY 2019.

    • A reduced list of pesticides will be analyzed beginning in FY 2020. 

  • WMA water-quality activities are anticipated to continue at funding levels similar to those in FY 2019 but a portion of WMA appropriated funds that previously supported NAWQA Project assessment activities will be redirected to support new integrated science priorities.

  • High-visibility NAWQA reports and products on water-quality trends, water-quality models, regional stream quality assessments, and other topics will be completed by the end of FY 2021.

  • Lower-visibility NAWQA products will not be completed, but new water-quality products are being planned as part of the new integrated science priorities.

  • Water quality, water quantity, and water use data and information will be truly integrated into comprehensive evaluations of water availability at regional and national scales.

More information

For more information about changes to water-quality work in the USGS WMA, please contact:

  • Chad Wagner for questions regarding water-quality monitoring activities.

  • Mindi Dalton or Patty Toccalino for questions regarding water-quality assessments, trends, modeling, and forecasting activities.