Studies by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program in the last decade describe water-quality conditions in nearly 120 agricultural and 35 urban watersheds ('urban' primarily refers to residential and commercial development over the last 50 years). The findings show that for both urban and agricultural areas, nonpoint chemical contamination is an issue. Much work still needs to be done in urban areas with point source contamination as well, including infrastructure improvements. Appreciable improvements in overall water quality, however, will depend upon effective management of point and nonpoint sources. The findings show that nonpoint chemical contamination is an agricultural and urban issue. Whereas a lot of work still needs to be pursued with point source contamination and infrastructure improvements in urban areas (such as related to combined and sanitary sewer overflows), appreciable improvements in water quality also will depend upon management of nonpoint sources. The NAWQA findings also show that water-quality conditions and aquatic health reflect a complex combination of land and chemical use, land-management practices, population density and watershed development, and natural features, such as soils, geology, hydrology, and climate. Contaminant concentrations vary from season to season and from watershed to watershed. Even among seemingly similar land uses and sources of contamination, different areas can have very different degrees of vulnerability and, therefore, have different rates at which improved treatment or management can lead to water-quality improvements.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Selected findings and current perspectives on urban and agricultural water quality by the National Water-Quality Assessment Program