Fate and Behavior Tools Related to Inland Spill Response—Workshop on the U.S. Geological Survey’s Role in Federal Science Support

Open-File Report 2020-1063
By:  and 


Executive Summary

There is a growing body of tools available for science support for determining the fate and behavior of industrial and agricultural chemicals that are rapidly injected (“spilled”) into aquatic environments. A 2-day roundtable-style workshop was held by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in Middleton, Wisconsin, in December 2017 to describe and explore existing Federal science support for spill fate and behavior tools used for inland spills, ongoing and new fate and behavior studies, and science gaps in planning and response tools as part of the USGS Midcontinent Region’s efforts to include spill response as part of its strategic plans. A total of 28 attendees representing a variety of Federal, State, and regional entities presented on programs and tools used in various aspects of spill response. Most programs and tools discussed were for spills in riverine environments but tools and applications for spills in lakes, on land surfaces, in urban storm sewer networks, and groundwater also were discussed. A primary workshop focus was to facilitate communication and increase potential for future collaboration among agencies for inland spill science support. The role and need for more USGS science support within the inland spill community was discussed. Enhanced communication is needed within the USGS and the U.S. Department of the Interior science programs, as well as within and among other agencies that do emergency planning and response. A main conclusion of the workshop was that there are untapped resources of the USGS outlined in the agency’s science strategy that could strengthen science support for fate and behavior tools in inland areas, especially in the Upper Mississippi River, Ohio River, and Great Lakes Basins where large freshwater resources overlap with dense corridors of oil and hazardous substances, with transportation networks, and with large populations centers.

Fate and behavior tools are being developed quickly for inland spill response by multiple Federal agencies in partnership with local and regional entities. Applicability of these tools ranges from planning and preparedness, to the early stages of spill response for protection of human life and property, and to the application of monitoring and models to assess the long-term consequences of spills. Key findings from the workshop, with an emphasis on potential further development of USGS science support, include the following:

•The national and regional response to spills occurs within an established system that must be respected by all parties involved in spill response. The USGS’s role is to support spill responders who are physically working at a spill scene, deploying booms and using other efforts to contain and recover spilled materials.

•The USGS has tools that have been used throughout spill response operations, from early response to recovery and restoration. Developing a more formal role for the USGS to participate in science support for inland spills on a consistent basis is a desired outcome. This will require the USGS to improve internal and external communication and would be best accomplished by assigning one or more coordinator positions within the agency to plan and oversee USGS spill-response efforts. More involvement of the USGS on National and Regional Response Teams, especially in the realm of the Science and Technology Subcommittees, will gofar in increasing external communication and integration of fate and behavior tools.

•Rapid response to spills requires modeling and mapping of plumes and associated time-of-travel estimation for a range of stream sizes across the United States. Many existing models use USGS streamgage data and the USGS National Hydrography Dataset. Nearly all existing models would benefit from updated linkages to USGS StreamStats and its soon-to-be released time-of-travel estimates,real-time velocity, stream morphology, and slope data. Integrating USGS tools with those from other agencies could be done to better serve the larger spill response community.

• A problem is that existing models to rapidly predict plume extent, as well as more followup/longer-term fate and transport models, can be unknown or unavailable to spill responders. Thus, creating and strengthening linkages among USGS scientists skilled at using these tools is needed to support spill response with the on-scene responders.

• Research for inland spill fate and behavior done outside of an immediate spill response can assist with spill planning and preparedness by (1) revealing sites likely to experience spills in the future (high-risk sites) and (2) understanding how a spilled substance might behave under a range of environmental conditions. However, USGS research on this topic has been scarce and subject to funding availability. Examples include the 2010 Line 6B Spill release into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan, where the USGS provided science support for a variety of fate and behavior tools for stream and impoundment environments. A long-term research site in Bemidji, Minnesota, provides important insights into transformations and longevity of spilled oil in groundwater and groundwater-surface water interactions.

• Linking stream models to other components of this inland environment, including groundwater, overland flow, and karst, is needed. Stream network data can be linked to underground conduits such as storm sewers and karst groundwater systems. Stream models can also be linked with geospatial data such as that contained in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s
interactive mapping tools.

• The USGS is uniquely qualified to collect water-quality data during spills in the United States because of its many geographically dispersed water science centers, its knowledge and preparedness for flood measurement and documentation, and its cadre of skilled water-quality employees. Rapid-deployment gages, used for floods, could also be used for spills if they included spill-specific sensors. Coordinated expertise at USGS water and environmental science centers can be used for monitoring spill effects and for assessing risk to water quality and ecological communities.

• Scientists at the USGS have proven capable of providing science coordination and technical assistance within the Incident Command Structure at the request of the lead on-scene coordinator. This external coordination, as well as internal communication within USGS Water, Hazards, and Ecosystems Mission Areas, could be improved by establishing and naming a USGS spills coordinator. Scott Morlock, Jo Ellen Hinck, and Faith Fitzpatrick are currently (2017) serving in informal coordination roles in addition to their traditional duties.

Suggested Citation

Sullivan, D.J., and Fitzpatrick, F.A., 2020, Fate and behavior tools related to inland spill response—Workshop on the U.S. Geological Survey’s role in Federal science support: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1063, 22 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20201063.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Federal and Regional Spill Science Support and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Role
  • Inland Spill Fate and Behavior Tools and Models
  • Mapping Applications
  • Behavior and Risk Research
  • Workshop Findings and the U.S. Geological Survey’s Role in Spill Response
  • Acknowledgments
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Workshop Agenda and Attendees
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Fate and behavior tools related to inland spill response—Workshop on the U.S. Geological Survey’s role in Federal science support
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2020-1063
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201063
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Upper Midwest Water Science Center
Description v, 22 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details