Use of National Water-Quality Assessment Program Protocols in District Projects

In Reply Refer To:                                 May 17, 1994
Mail Stop 412


Subject:  Use of National Water-Quality Assessment Program
          Protocols in District Projects


The purpose of this memorandum is to provide guidance for use of 
National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program protocols in 
District projects.


Protocols for the NAWQA Program have been published on methods for 
collection of benthic invertebrates, algae, tissue, habitat, and 
fish, and for processing and quality assurance of benthic 
invertebrate samples.  Additional protocols are under way.  A 
protocol on analysis and interpretation of biological information 
by Tom Cuffney of the North Carolina Ecology Group will be in 
draft form this summer.  Stephen Porter is drafting a document on 
quality assurance of algal samples.  Published protocols have been 
distributed to each District and are also available electronically 
via anonymous ftp.  A limited number of additional copies are 
available through the Office of Water Quality (OWQ).  References 
to protocols can be found in Attachment 1.  For details on how to 
access the protocols electronically, contact Sarah Griffin at 
(703) 648-5818.

The OWQ encourages District personnel to consider using these 
protocols in their projects where appropriate.  The use of the 
protocols will promote national consistency, provide an excellent 
review of the literature, and help District personnel make 
informed decisions on the choice of taxa and other project 
components.  Some District projects can apply aspects of the 
protocols unchanged; other projects will have to modify the 
protocols to varying degrees.  Direct applicability depends on how 
closely project objectives match the specific NAWQA objectives for 
which the protocols were created.  The further the objectives of 
the study depart from the objectives of the protocols, the more 
the methods will require modification.  

The protocols were designed to determine the occurrence and 
distribution of algae, invertebrate, and fish communities, or 
concentrations of contaminants in biological organisms at sites 
over time in a national program in order to better understand the 
effects of human activities on aquatic communities and 
concentrations of contaminants in tissues.  The protocols will be 
broadly useful for projects that (1) establish a baseline and 
periodically go back to the site to document changes, (2) compare 
sites over time, or (3) compare differences among sites.  
Attachment 2 summarizes the objectives, design considerations, 
site selection and sampling strategy, sampling gear, field 
processing, taxonomic identification, target taxa, and data 
analysis for the protocols.  This information will help readers 
understand why the protocols were developed and whether the 
readers' needs are similar or very different.

Projects that require comprehensive characterization of particular 
taxonomic groups to evaluate a site might require additional 
components or measurements beyond those indicated in the NAWQA 
protocols.  For example, studies on algal dynamics related to 
nutrient inputs might require information on algal growth.  
Studies of effects of acid deposition on fish and fish populations 
might include additional information on biomarkers or life tables 
of fish.  Studies of endangered fish might include more intensive 
measurements of contaminants or habitat than recommended in the 


Individuals who wish to modify the protocols to address more 
precisely water-quality problems in their project should contact 
protocol authors, their regional biologist, local NAWQA Program 
biologists, or Sarah Gerould in the OWQ for assistance.  Names and 
addresses of these individuals can be found in Attachment 3.  If 
you intend to use the protocol in a project, please inform your 
Regional biologist so that you will receive any additional 
guidance sent out by the authors of the protocols.  Information on 
where to find specific types of expertise within WRD is in the 
list of WRD Ecologists and Biologists, Attachment 4.

                   ALTERNATIVE METHODS

Alternative methods are available from other agencies.  In some 
cases, these may be more suitable for the project than the NAWQA 
protocols.  For example, many District programs may wish to focus 
on human health impacts, which was not the primary objective of 
the NAWQA Program.  Basic instructions for sampling edible 
portions of fish are given in the NAWQA tissue protocol.  More 
detail can be found in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 
(EPA) document, Guidance for Assessing Chemical Contaminant Data 
for Use in Fish Advisories, Volume 1, Fish Sampling and Analysis 
(U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, EPA 
823-R-92-0021993, 1993).  Another example of an alternative method 
that may be more suitable for District projects is EPA's 
Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for Use in Streams and Rivers 
(J.L. Plafkin and others, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 
Office of Water, EPA/440/4-89/001, 1989).

A summary of methods and program objectives used by different 
agencies is currently under review and will be available soon.  The 
summary will be contained within a report of the Interagency 
Biological Methods Workshop by Marty Gurtz, North Carolina Ecology 
Group, and Tom Muir, National Coordinator for the National 
Biological Survey for NAWQA.  The Workshop compared NAWQA protocols 
for fish, invertebrates, algae, habitat, and tissues to protocols of 
regional and national programs of other Federal and State agencies.  
Among the programs also represented are those of EPA (Rapid 
Bioassessment Protocols and Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 
Program), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration 
(National Status and Trends Program), and Ohio EPA.  Detailed charts 
in the resulting report will compare the objectives and methods of 
the programs that were represented.  Copies of the final report will 
be sent to each District when available.


Information on additional methods in biology is also available in 
training courses.  Biology courses, course coordinators, and date 
of next offering can be found in Attachment 5.  If you have need 
for additional formal or informal training, or wish to be informed 
of informal training exercises, please contact your regional 
biologist, or Sarah Gerould in the OWQ (703) 648-6895.  


Algae and macroinvertebrates collected in the field can be sent 
to the National Water Quality Laboratory, Biological QA/QC Unit, 
for identification.  The laboratory provides quality assurance 
for samples sent to carefully selected contractors for 
identification.  The taxonomic data received from contractors 
will be entered into NWIS II at the laboratory, as part of the 
check for correct identification and spelling.  The Biological 
QA/QC Unit will help to ensure that WRD produces quality 
biological data.  We encourage District personnel to use this 
service when it becomes available later this fiscal year.  For 
more information on the QA/QC Unit, contact Allison Brigham at 
(303) 467-8268.

                                 David A. Rickert
                                 Chief, Office of Water Quality

5 Attachments

This memorandum does not supersede any other Office of Water 
Quality Technical Memorandum.

Distribution:  A, B, S, FO, PO, AH
               Regional Biologists
               Regional Water Quality Specialists
               District Water Quality Specialists
               Kent Crawford, Pennsylvania District
               Marty Gurtz, North Carolina District
               Tom Cuffney, North Carolina District
               Mike Meador, North Carolina District
               Sam Luoma, Western Region
               Donna Myers, Ohio District
               Tom Muir, Headquarters
               Julio Betancourt, Arizona
               Office of Water Quality Staff