2002 Denver Annual Meeting (October 27-30, 2002)

Paper No. 25
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:00 PM


HARRIS, Randa R. and HOLLABAUGH, Curtis L., Geosciences, State Univ of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA 30118, rharris@westga.edu

The Nation’s waters are in need of protection. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately forty percent of them do not meet water quality goals; there are water quality problems in almost half of the Nation’s 2000 major watersheds. Water quality standards are in place to help guard against problems. The Clean Water Act mandates that the EPA develop scientifically sound criteria for water quality that adequately reflect recent knowledge. The EPA then guides states and tribes in adopting individual water quality standards. These standards are established in order to assess whether surface water quality is adequate to support aquatic life and designated uses. States may use EPA criteria to set water quality standards or they may devise their own standards in order to meet state-specific needs, as long as they are scientifically tenable, as rigorous as the national criteria, and approved by the EPA. A wide disparity currently exists among individual state water quality standards. In an effort to better quantify the stringency of individual state water quality standards, an evaluation of nine water quality parameters (dissolved oxygen, pH, mercury, temperature, DDT, turbidity, fecal coliform bacteria, arsenic, and PCBs) was conducted. Individual state water quality standards for each parameter were collected and listed in tables. They were then ranked for each parameter, with the state with the most stringent water quality standards receiving a 1, down to the state with the least stringent standards at 50. For example, Washington is ranked in first place for requiring dissolved oxygen levels of 8-9.5 mg/L in waters designated for drinking water. Colorado ranks 50th; it only requires a minimum of 3 mg/L dissolved oxygen. Once ranked, states were then compared across all nine parameters to determine which state possessed the strictest water quality standards overall. Evaluating the rigor of fecal coliform bacteria standards is complicated because, since its 1986 Ambient Water Quality Criteria for Bacteria, the EPA has strongly recommended that states use E. coli and enterococci in place of fecal coliform to protect waters designated for recreational purposes. Their own studies and review of other studies deemed this more indicative of actual fecal contamination. Since the EPA’s recommendation 16 years ago, only 18 states have made this change.