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U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1225--The Quality of Our Nation's Waters Nutrients and Pesticides

"The Nation's water resources are the basis for life and our economic vitality. These resources support a complex web of human activities and fishery and wildlife needs that depend upon clean water. Demands for good quality water for drinking, recreation, farming, and industry are rising, and as a result, the American public is concerned about the condition and sustainability of our water resources. As part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program, the U.S. Geological Survey will continue to work with other Federal, State, and local agencies to better understand how natural and human influences affect water quality in different parts of the Nation. Without this understanding, we can not wisely manage these resources."

Bruce Babbitt, Secretary U.S. Department of the Interior


In 1991, the U.S. Congress appropriated funds for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to begin the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. As part of the NAWQA Program, the USGS works with other Federal, State, and local agencies to understand the spatial extent of water quality, how water quality changes with time, and how human activities and natural factors affect water quality across the Nation. Such understanding can help resource managers and policy makers to better anticipate, prioritize, and manage water quality in different hydrologic and land-use settings and to consider key natural processes and human factors in resource strategies and policies designed to restore and protect water quality.

The NAWQA Program focuses on water quality in more than 50 major river basins and aquifer systems. Together, these include water resources available to more than 60 percent of the population in watersheds that cover about one-half of the land area of the conterminous United States. NAWQA began investigations in 20 of these areas in 1991 and phased in work in more than 30 additional basins by 1997. Investigations in these basins, referred to as "Study Units," use a nationally consistent scientific approach and standardized methods. The consistent design facilitates investigations of local conditions and trends within individual Study Units, while also providing a basis to make comparisons among Study Units. The comparisons demonstrate that water-quality patterns are related to chemical use, land use, climate, geology, topography, and soils, and thereby improve our understanding of how and why water quality varies regionally and nationally.

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