The Cooperative Water Program
Description of the Program
As the primary Federal science agency for water-resource information, the USGS monitors the quantity and quality of water in the Nation's rivers and aquifers, assesses the sources and fate of contaminants in aquatic systems, develops tools to improve the application of hydrologic information, and ensures that its information and tools are available to all potential users. This broad, diverse mission cannot be accomplished effectively without the contributions of the Cooperative Water (Coop) Program. For more than 100 years, the Coop Program has been a highly successful cost-sharing partnership between the USGS and water-resource agencies at the State, local, and Tribal levels. Throughout its history, the program has made important contributions to meeting USGS mission requirements, developing meaningful partnerships, sharing Federal and non-Federal financial resources, and keeping the agency focused on real-world problems.
Most work in the Coop Program is directed toward potential and emerging long-term problems, such as water supply, waste disposal, ground-water quality, effects of agricultural chemicals, floods, droughts, and environmental protection. Standardized methods are used so that study results are transferable to similar problems in other areas and contribute to issues that have interstate, regional, or international significance. Data collected by USGS and the results of its studies are accepted by parties on both sides of disputes and furnish the basis required for interstate and international compacts, Federal law and court decrees, congressionally mandated studies, regional and national water-resources assessments, and planning activities.
The jointly planned and funded Coop Program provides assurance that the information needed to meet national and local needs will be produced and shared. Because rivers and aquifers cross jurisdictional lines, studies and data collected in one county or one State have great value in adjacent counties or States. It is therefore effective to have one agency involved in these studies so that the information can be shared and is comparable from one jurisdiction to the next.
Program priorities are developed in response to mutual Federal, regional, State, and local requirements. Thus, the USGS and cooperating agencies work together in a continuing process that leads to adjustments in the program each year. During 2004, cooperative water studies were conducted by USGS personnel in every State, in Puerto Rico, and several former U.S. trust territories. Almost 1,400 cooperators participated in the program (see table 1). (For a complete list of cooperators, click here.) These cooperators include State, county, municipal and Tribal agencies, as well as interstate compact organizations, conservation districts, water-supply districts, sanitary districts, drainage districts, flood-control districts, and similar organizations. Through the pooling of support, the USGS is able to conduct studies that lead to an improved understanding of the Nation's water resources to the mutual benefit of all levels of government--at substantial financial savings to any one agency.
The State and local cooperators matched the $64.0 million appropriated to the USGS, matched another $12.9 million in other USGS funding, and contributed an additional $61.1 million, for total program funding of $214.9 million. The Coop Program has been highly successful because it:
Within the Coop Program, about half the funds are used to support data-collection activities; the remaining funds are used for interpretive studies. To maximize the usefulness of hydrologic data and the results of interpretive studies, the USGS compiles and analyzes information resulting from these activities into regional and national synthesis products using modest amounts of funding from other USGS programs.
Cooperatively funded hydrologic data collection activities are underway in every State, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Over the past few years, the Coop Program has provided sole support or partial support for well over half of the sites where the USGS collects data on surface-water levels and flow, ground-water levels, and ground-water quality. In addition, the Coop Program supports collection of data on surface-water quality, which is becoming increasingly important to the States as they monitor total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), to comply with the requirements of the Clean Water Act.
All these data provide resource managers with the information they need to determine the suitability of water for various uses, identify trends in water quality, and evaluate the effects of various stresses on the Nation's ground-water and surface-water resources. Much of the data collected at USGS monitoring sites is provided free of charge on the Internet to all interested parties via the USGS National Water Information System. This includes historical data, as well as real-time data, which are generally less than 4 hours old. The real-time data are used routinely by emergency management agencies, State and municipal agencies, businesses, and recreational boaters and fishers.
Most of the USGS data-collection stations serve multiple purposes and many are funded, wholly or in part, through cooperative agreements. Normally, these stations, though funded by various organizations, are operated as part of an integrated network rather than as stand-alone entities. For this reason, cooperating organizations are billed on the basis of AVERAGE station cost, rather than ACTUAL cost, which rarely can be precisely known. This procedure benefits these organizations and the USGS in at least two ways: administrative costs are reduced because financial transactions are simplified, and definitive cost information is available to all parties for planning purposes at the beginning of the fiscal year. This arrangement also assures that data collection in remote areas or areas which may be otherwise problematic during a given period of time (due to vandals, extreme flooding, lightning strikes, etc.) do not become so expensive that they must be dropped from the network.
In addition to data collection activities, the Coop Program currently supports about 750 hydrologic studies each year. Water resource studies define, characterize, and evaluate the extent, quality, and availability of water resources. Since the early 1970s, these investigations have increasingly emphasized water-quality issues, such as aquifer contamination, land application and injection of reclaimed water, river quality, storm-runoff quality, and the effects of acid rain, urbanization, mining, and agricultural chemicals and practices on water resources. The results of these investigations are published and provided to State agencies, which use them as the basis for managing the water resources for which they are responsible. Also, these investigations provide information that can be synthesized and applied to a variety of hydrogeologic and climatic settings across the Nation, greatly expanding the usefulness and transferability of USGS study results nationwide.
One of the major strengths of Coop Program is its ability to provide data and assessments on varied topics from across the country, which, when synthesized, can be useful in addressing broad, national USGS mission goals. As recommended by the External Task Force that reviewed the Coop Program, the USGS plans to expand these efforts by "pre-planning" selected synthesis products. The USGS encourages its managers to explore the needs of cooperating agencies for addressing these issues and, to the extent that is mutually agreeable, to follow the guidance provided for each synthesis topic. The USGS believes that including this guidance in project planning will help enhance the capabilities of each USGS field unit, promote the use of valid, standard approaches, and enhance future synthesis products. The topics for National Synthesis are: