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Development of regional waterbody-specific nutrient criteria is a national priority identified in the National Strategy for the Development of Regional Nutrient Criteria (US EPA, 1998). The United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recommended water quality criteria for nutrients for rivers and lakes in the 14 national ecoregions (or “reference conditions”). States must make significant progress towards adopting nutrient criteria as water quality standards by the end of 2004. U.S. EPA has recommended that States refine these reference conditions to: incorporate sub-ecoregion-specific conditions to protect designated uses; incorporate historical information, models, and best professional judgment; and consider downstream effects. In New England, most states have indicated to EPA in their nutrient criteria development plans that they intend to use their expert judgment to develop effects-based criteria for protection of designated uses.

For rivers and streams, this means that criteria will be protective of designated uses in the streams, while immediate downstream uses would be separately accounted for as load reduction targets in a watershed Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL). This is because many rivers and streams empty into impoundments or reservoirs that have long retention times, and thus are sensitive to nutrient enrichment. The New England Regional Technical Advisory Group (RTAG) discussions have highlighted that it is difficult to account for downstream uses because of the variability in types of streams and reservoirs and in determining what is considered “immediate”. The concern remains that this approach does not prevent impairments downstream and thus may not be protective of all downstream designated uses.

This paper describes criteria developed for rivers in New England using the reference condition approach, based on a nutrient and trophic parameter database of 569 rivers and streams (NEIWPCC, 2003), and an effects-based approach, based on a weight-of-evidence review of literature, models and TMDL studies. Using several river examples from this database, including typical conditions for New England streams and rivers, we investigated several approaches for development of river and stream nutrient criteria that would be dually protective of designated uses in both upstream reaches and downstream impoundments.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-01-01

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