The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its biennial national summary of water quality, based on water monitoring findings reported by the states, territories and jurisdictions. The information in this report applies only to the waters that were assessed for one or more of the uses, such as swimming, fishing and fish consumption, designated for them by the states.
States assessed 19 percent of the nation's 3.7 million total river and stream miles, 43 percent of its 40.6 million acres of lakes, ponds and reservoirs and 36 percent of its 87,300 estuary square miles for this report. EPA reports that 39 percent of assessed river and stream miles, 45 percent of assessed lake acres and 51 percent of assessed estuary square miles in the nation were found to be impaired for one or more uses.
EPA found that the percentage of assessed river/stream and estuary waters found to be impaired has increased somewhat from the last report in 1998, although that difference is more likely due to changes in assessment approaches than actual water quality changes. Many states are choosing to use higher quality data than in the past in making their assessments, discarding older or less quality-assured data. They also are moving toward more comprehensive examination of fish tissue and issuing statewide advisories limiting the consumption of certain species of fish.
Mercury, which originates from air transport from power generating facilities and incinerators, mining, natural rock weathering and other sources, was cited in approximately 2,240 of the nation's 2,800 fish consumption advisories and is reported as a leading cause of impairment in U.S. lakes and estuaries.
According to G. Tracy Mehan, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, this report points out the need for more effective controls to address the nation's water quality problems, especially those originating from diffuse, non-permitted sources such as runoff from agricultural and urban areas, as well as air deposition. As in the past, these non-point sources continue to dominate as sources of pollution.
"EPA and the states need to work together as partners to solve this problem and implement more effective solutions," says Mehan.
EPA is working to improve identification and cleanup of impaired waters through the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) program. This program calls for participation of the public in the identification of impaired waters and in the development of pollution "budgets" used to restore the health of those waters. EPA also is developing a national monitoring strategy to improve water quality assessment and reporting and ensure that state water quality findings are comprehensive and comparable among states and over time.