NOAA Report Highlights Need for National Coordination of Ocean, Coastal Water Quality Monitoring

On March 19, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a new report addressing the need for a national water quality monitoring network.

The document, "Linking Elements of the Integrated Ocean Observing System with the Planned National Water Quality Monitoring Network" is a summary of a Rutgers University workshop that brought together key government agencies, academic institutions and scientific organizations to discuss the network.

Coordinated water quality monitoring is needed due to the many problems facing coastal water bodies, including nutrient over-enrichment, inputs of toxic contaminants and pathogens and habitat alteration. A national water quality monitoring network was called for in both the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy's 2004 final report and in the U.S. Ocean Action Plan.

In April 2006, the Advisory Committee on Water Information and the National Water Quality Monitoring Council completed a design for the network that will be part of the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS), the U.S. system for collecting data and information about the oceans and a part of global observation systems.

Participants of the workshop found that any future management arrangement linking the council to IOOS would require a centralized effort to integrate current monitoring and research programs. Participants identified the Delaware Bay ecosystem as a possible location for a regional pilot project to measure physical, biological and chemical aspects of water quality. The region has a large forested upper watershed, undeveloped estuarine wetlands and a wide variety of aquatic, marine and upland species. It also supports many human uses, and there are a number of water quality research and management efforts under way in this area.

"Managing coastal and ocean resources effectively will require accurate information from integrated observing systems that allows for detecting and predicting the causes and consequences of changes in our fragile ocean and coastal resources," said Conrad C. Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

A national, linked water quality system would facilitate cost effectiveness by integrating monitoring in ocean, coastal and estuarine areas with the upland areas that affect them. Coastal states, territories, tribes and federal agencies would all be involved in administering it. Data and information resulting from linkages between IOOS and the council would be used by multiple organizations to preserve and enhance water quality conditions in U.S. estuaries and coastal waters. The results also would facilitate ecosystem approaches to managing coastal and marine resources.

"IOOS is a critical tool in the coming decade to help generate optimal value to society," said John H. Dunnigan, director of the NOAA Ocean Service. "Improving water quality is one critical area in which we can apply an IOOS system to assist coastal managers."

Other key workshop results detailed in the report include a description of overarching water quality management issues, an analysis of existing monitoring programs, an evaluation of the effectiveness of existing management of data, and assessments of current regional procedures and technologies for addressing water quality issues.

"Effective water quality monitoring requires routine access to integrated scientific information in formats that are useful to decision-makers," said Zdenka Willis, director of the NOAA IOOS program office. "Workshops that bring together multiple stakeholders are critical to helping the U.S. IOOS program understand what information is needed, how this information should be provided and formulating steps for accomplishing this important work."

This NOAA-supported workshop was held Sept. 19 to 21, 2005, in New Brunswick, N.J. The report can be accessed in PDF format at http://www.ccma.nos.noaa.gov/publications/IOOSTechMemo.pdf.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

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