Stressor Identification Framework of Biological Impairment in Mississippi Streams to Support Watershed Restoration and TMDL Development

Scientific Investigations Report 2020-5098
Prepared in cooperation with the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality
By:  and 



The Clean Water Act (CWA) requires States to identify waters that are impaired for designated uses. These waters are published through a State’s §303(d) list. The CWA also requires that a total maximum daily load (TMDL) be completed for each water body to calculate the maximum amount of contaminants that can be present in that water body and still meet water-quality standards. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) uses a statewide monitoring and assessment strategy to collect benthic macroinvertebrate community data to assess the health of streams and rivers and to identify impaired waters. Waters that are found to be impaired based on the macroinvertebrate community data are listed on the Mississippi §303(d) list, and the cause of impairment is listed as “biological impairment.” Although the CWA requires TMDLs to be developed for applicable contaminants identified in the §303(d) list, TMDLs cannot be computed for stream reaches in Mississippi listed for biological impairment because the actual stressors causing the impairment have not yet been determined. The MDEQ and other water-resource managers in Mississippi require a framework for stressor identification in biologically impaired streams and rivers. This report is organized to (1) provide a general overview of biological impairment and stressor identification in stream ecosystems and (2) provide a detailed framework for stressor identification of Mississippi streams that are biologically impaired. The intent is for the framework to reduce subjectivity, provide consistency, and allow for adaptation as the science evolves. The stressor identification framework for Mississippi involves six key steps:

  1. Define the impairment,
  2. List the candidate causes of impairment and develop a conceptual model,
  3. Compile all relevant data,
  4. Evaluate the data,
  5. Identify probable causes of impairment by using a weight-of-evidence approach, and
  6. Generate a report of results.

Suggested Citation

Hicks, M.B., and Cartwright, J.M., 2020, Stressor identification framework of biological impairment in Mississippi streams to support watershed restoration and TMDL development: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2020–5098, 42 p.,

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • General Overview of Stressor Identification in Stream Ecosystems
  • Stressor Identification of Biologically Impaired Streams in Mississippi
  • Options for Future Enhancement of This Framework
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1. Field Forms Used During Reconnaissance in Stressor Identification
  • Appendix 2. Tools for M-BISQ Data Compilation and Evaluation
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Stressor identification framework of biological impairment in Mississippi streams to support watershed restoration and TMDL development
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2020-5098
DOI 10.3133/sir20205098
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Lower Mississippi-Gulf Water Science Center
Description vii, 42 p.
Country United States
State Mississippi
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details