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Keywords:

  • Nutrients;
  • Water quality criteria;
  • Florida lakes;
  • Data quality objectives;
  • Decision errors

Abstract

The utility of numeric nutrient criteria established for certain surface waters is likely to be affected by the uncertainty that exists in the presence of a causal link between nutrient stressor variables and designated use–related biological responses in those waters. This uncertainty can be difficult to characterize, interpret, and communicate to a broad audience of environmental stakeholders. The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has developed a systematic planning process to support a variety of environmental decisions, but this process is not generally applied to the development of national or state-level numeric nutrient criteria. This article describes a method for implementing such an approach and uses it to evaluate the numeric total P criteria recently proposed by USEPA for colored lakes in Florida, USA. An empirical, log-linear relationship between geometric mean concentrations of total P (a potential stressor variable) and chlorophyll a (a nutrient-related response variable) in these lakes—that is assumed to be causal in nature—forms the basis for the analysis. The use of the geometric mean total P concentration of a lake to correctly indicate designated use status, defined in terms of a 20 µg/L geometric mean chlorophyll a threshold, is evaluated. Rates of decision errors analogous to the Type I and Type II error rates familiar in hypothesis testing, and a 3rd error rate, Eni, referred to as the nutrient criterion–based impairment error rate, are estimated. The results show that USEPA's proposed “baseline” and “modified” nutrient criteria approach, in which data on both total P and chlorophyll a may be considered in establishing numeric nutrient criteria for a given lake within a specified range, provides a means for balancing and minimizing designated use attainment decision errors. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2012;8:167–174. © 2011 SETAC