Skip Navigation Links
USGS Data Series 423
National Water-Quality Assessment Program
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is committed to providing the Nation with credible scientific information that helps to enhance and protect the overall quality of life and that facilitates effective management of water, biological, energy, and mineral resources (http://www.usgs.gov/). Information on the Nation’s water resources is critical to ensuring long-term availability of water that is safe for drinking and recreation and is suitable for industry, irrigation, and fish and wildlife. Population growth and increasing demands for water make the availability of that water, now measured in terms of quantity and quality, even more essential to the long-term sustainability of our communities and ecosystems.
The USGS implemented the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program in 1991 to support national, regional, State, and local information needs and decisions related to water-quality management and policy (http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa). The NAWQA Program is designed to answer: What is the condition of our Nation’s streams and ground water? How are conditions changing over time? How do natural features and human activities affect the quality of streams and ground water, and where are those effects most pronounced? By combining information on water chemistry, physical characteristics, stream habitat, and aquatic life, the NAWQA Program aims to provide science-based insights for current and emerging water issues and priorities. From 1991 to 2001, the NAWQA Program completed interdisciplinary assessments and established a baseline understanding of water-quality conditions in 51 of the Nation’s river basins and aquifers, referred to as Study Units (http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/studyu.html).
Multiple national and regional assessments are ongoing in the second decade (2001–2012) of the NAWQA Program as 42 of the 51 Study Units are reassessed. These assessments extend the findings in the Study Units by determining status and trends at sites that have been consistently monitored for more than a decade, and filling critical gaps in characterizing the quality of surface water and ground water. For example, increased emphasis has been placed on assessing the quality of source water and finished water associated with many of the Nation’s largest community water systems. During the second decade, NAWQA is addressing five national priority topics that build an understanding of how natural features and human activities affect water quality, and establish links between sources of contaminants, the transport of those contaminants through the hydrologic system, and the potential effects of contaminants on humans and aquatic ecosystems. Included are topics on the fate of agricultural chemicals, effects of urbanization on stream ecosystems, bioaccumulation of mercury in stream ecosystems, effects of nutrient enrichment on aquatic ecosystems, and transport of contaminants to public-supply wells. These topical studies are conducted in those Study Units most affected by these issues; they comprise a set of multi-Study-Unit designs for systematic national assessment. In addition, national syntheses of information on pesticides, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), nutrients, selected trace elements, and aquatic ecology are continuing.
The USGS aims to disseminate credible, timely, and relevant science information to address practical and effective water-resource management and strategies that protect and restore water quality. We hope this NAWQA publication will provide you with insights and information to meet your needs, and will foster increased citizen awareness and involvement in the protection and restoration of our Nation’s waters.
The USGS recognizes that a national assessment by a single program cannot address all water-resource issues of interest. External coordination at all levels is critical for cost-effective management, regulation, and conservation of our Nation’s water resources. The NAWQA Program, therefore, depends on advice and information from other agencies—Federal, State, regional, interstate, Tribal, and local—as well as nongovernmental organizations, industry, academia, and other stakeholder groups. Your assistance and suggestions are greatly appreciated.
Matthew C. Larsen
Associate Director for Water