Summary of available state ambient stream-water-quality data, 1990-98, and limitations for national assessment

Water-Resources Investigations Report 2003-4316

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The investigation described in this report summarized data from State ambient stream-water-quality monitoring sites for 10 water-quality constituents or measurements (suspended solids, fecal coliform bacteria, ammonia as nitrogen, nitrite plus nitrate as nitrogen, total phosphorus, total arsenic, dissolved solids, chloride, sulfate, and pH). These 10 water-quality constituents or measurements commonly are listed nationally as major contributors to degradation of surface water. Water-quality data were limited to that electronically accessible from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Storage and Retrieval System (STORET), the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Information System (NWIS), or individual State databases. Forty-two States had ambient stream-water-quality data electronically accessible for some or all of the constituents or measurements summarized during this investigation. Ambient in this report refers to data collected for the purpose of evaluating stream ecosystems in relation to human health, environmental and ecological conditions, and designated uses. Generally, data were from monitoring sites assessed for State 305(b) reports. Comparisons of monitoring data among States are problematic for several reasons, including differences in the basic spatial design of monitoring networks; water-quality constituents for which samples are analyzed; water-quality criteria to which constituent concentrations are compared; quantity and comprehensiveness of water-quality data; sample collection, processing, and handling; analytical methods; temporal variability in sample collection; and quality-assurance practices. Large differences among the States in number of monitoring sites precluded a general assumption that statewide water-quality conditions were represented by data from these sites. Furthermore, data from individual monitoring sites may not represent water-quality conditions at the sites because sampling conditions and protocols are unknown. Because of these factors, a high level of uncertainty exists in a national assessment of water quality. The purpose of this report is to present a summary of electronically available State ambient stream-water-quality data for 10 selected constituents and measurements from monitoring sites with nine or more analyses for 199098 and to discuss limitations for use of the data for national assessment. These analyses were statistiscally summarized by monitoring site and State, and the results presented in tabular format. Most of the selected constituents or measurements have U.S. Environmental Protection Agency criteria or guidelines for aquatic-life or drinking-water purposes. A significant finding of this investigation is that for a large percentage of monitoring sites in the Nation, there are insufficient data to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommendations for determining if water-quality conditions are degraded and for making informed decisions regarding total maximum daily loads.

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USGS Numbered Series
Summary of available state ambient stream-water-quality data, 1990-98, and limitations for national assessment
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Water-Resources Investigations Report
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55 p.