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Keywords:

  • National Wadeable Streams Assessment;
  • aquatic ecosystems;
  • human impacts;
  • environmental monitoring

When the U.S. Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1972, later amended by the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1977, it tasked the newly created U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in cooperation with the states, with periodically assessing the quality of U.S. waters and reporting on progress toward meeting the goals of the CWA. In subsequent decades, reviews by various governmental and nongovernmental organizations consistently have found available water quality data and reporting to be inadequate to evaluate the nation's progress [Shapiro et al., 2008]. In response to these concerns, in 1989 EPA's Office of Research and Development initiated the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) to develop and demonstrate scientific tools to monitor the status of, and trends in, U.S. aquatic resources and environmental stressors affecting them.

Recent EPA-led efforts involve monitoring wadeable perennial streams (streams or rivers shallow enough to be wadeable during seasonal low flows), which make up an estimated 90% of the total length of all perennial flowing waters in the United States [EPA, 2006]. Selected results from the first national survey of these streams, the national Wadeable Streams Assessment (WSA) [EPA, 2006; Paulsen et al., 2008], illustrate how such surveys can provide critical information to guide management of this important resource. Nonmonitoring applications of data from the WSA and earlier regional surveys show the wide-ranging applicability of these rich data sets.