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The Arid West Water Quality Research Project, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded project managed by the Pima County Wastewater Management Department in Tucson, Arizona, was established in 1995. Its purpose is to conduct scientific research to develop appropriate water quality criteria and improve the scientific basis for regulating wastewater and stormwater discharges in the arid and semi-arid West. This research effort funded a study to characterize the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of effluent dependent waters in the arid West. Historical and site reconnaissance level data were gathered on ten effluent dependent waters. Findings from this characterization effort suggest that western effluent dependent waters are unique; both physical and chemical factors limit aquatic community potential. However, while the aquatic community may be limited, significant benefits are manifested in the terrestrial community that develops in response to the created aquatic environment.

The findings of this study coupled with the increasing demands on water resources in the West suggest that now is the time to develop other scientifically defensible methods for addressing water quality issues in effluent dependent waters. Traditional methods for establishing water quality standards and discharge permits do not recognize non-aquatic benefits. In addition, increasing demands on water resources in the West could lead to the loss of these created habitats. Recognizing this concern, EPA Region IX published a “net ecological benefit” guidance that provided opportunity to consider non-aquatic benefits gained from effluent discharged to otherwise dry riverbeds. Moreover, this guidance provided a template for creative watershed management in the arid West. Given the growth of urban environments, the increasing demand for water resources and the increasing community desire to restore urban river habitats, there is a critical need to develop alternative approaches for implementing water quality programs in effluent dependent waters. Application of a net ecological benefit approach to water quality management in effluent dependent waters is recommended as a viable alternative for environmental protection in these created streams.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2001-01-01

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