oversight

Water Quality: EPA Should Improve Guidance and Support to Help States Develop Standards That Better Target Cleanup Efforts

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 2003-06-19.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                             United States General Accounting Office

GAO                          Testimony
                             Before the Subcommittee on Water
                             Resources and Environment, Committee
                             on Transportation and Infrastructure,
                             House of Representatives
For Release on Delivery
Expected at 10:00 a.m. EDT
Thursday, June 19, 2003      WATER QUALITY
                             EPA Should Improve
                             Guidance and Support to
                             Help States Develop
                             Standards That Better
                             Target Cleanup Efforts
                             Statement of John B. Stephenson, Director
                             Natural Resources and Environment




GAO-03-881T
                                                June 19, 2003


                                                WATER QUALITY

                                                EPA Should Improve Guidance and
Highlights of GAO-03-881T, a report to the      Support to Help States Develop
Subcommittee on Water Resources and
Environment, Committee on                       Standards That Better Target Cleanup
Transportation and Infrastructure, House
of Representatives                              Efforts


Water quality standards comprise                The extent to which states are changing designated uses varies considerably.
designated uses and water quality               Individual states made anywhere from no use changes to over 1,000 use
criteria. These standards are                   changes during the 5-year period, from 1997 through 2001. Regardless of the
critical in making accurate,                    number of use changes states made, nearly all states report that some water
scientifically based determinations             bodies within their states currently need changes to their designated uses.
about which of the nation’s waters
are most in need of cleanup. GAO
                                                To do so, many states said they need additional EPA assistance to clarify the
examined the extent to which (1)                circumstances in which use changes are acceptable to EPA and the evidence
states are changing designated uses             needed to support those changes.
when necessary, (2) EPA is
assisting states toward that end, (3)           While EPA has developed and published criteria for a wide range of
EPA is updating the “criteria                   pollutants, the agency has not updated its criteria documents to include
documents” states use to develop                sedimentation and other key pollutants that are causing approximately 50
the pollutant limits needed to                  percent of water quality impairments nationwide. In addition to needing new
measure whether designated uses                 criteria documents, states need assistance from EPA in establishing criteria
are being attained, and (4) EPA is              so that they can be compared with reasonably obtainable monitoring data.
assisting states in establishing
criteria that can be compared with
reasonably obtainable monitoring
                                                Changing either designated uses or criteria is considered a standards
data.                                           modification. Twenty-two states reported that an improvement in the
                                                process for changing designated uses would result in different water bodies
                                                being slated for cleanup; 22 states also reported that an improvement in the
                                                process for modifying criteria would have that effect. Collectively, 30 states
GAO recommended in its January                  would have different water bodies slated for cleanup with an improvement
2003 report that the Administrator,             in the process of modifying standards.
EPA (1) provide additional
guidance regarding use changes,
(2) follow through on plans to                  States Reporting That Different Water Bodies Would Be Slated for Cleanup if the Process of
assess the feasibility of establishing          Changing Standards Were Improved
a clearinghouse of approved use
changes, (3) set a time frame
specifically for the development of
sediment criteria, (4) develop
alternative, scientifically defensible
monitoring strategies that states
can use to determine if water
bodies are meeting their water
quality criteria, and (5) develop
guidance and a training strategy to
help EPA regional staff in
determining the scientific
defensibility of proposed criteria
modifications. EPA agreed with
GAO’s recommendations and plans
to take steps to address them.
www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-881T.

To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact John B.
Stephenson at (202) 512-3841 or
stephensonj@gao.gov.
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to discuss our work assessing the
Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) and states’ actions under the
Clean Water Act to improve water quality standards. Water quality
standards are critical in making accurate, scientifically based
determinations about which waters are most in need of attention. Without
accurate standards, our nation runs the risk of wasting valuable resources
by “overprotecting” some waters or facing unacceptable environmental
consequences by “underprotecting” others.

Water quality standards comprise two key components—designated uses
and water quality criteria. States are responsible under the Clean Water
Act both for determining uses and for setting criteria. Both actions require
EPA approval.

Designated uses identify the purposes for which a given body of water is
intended to serve, such as drinking water, contact recreation (e.g.,
swimming), and aquatic life support (e.g., fishing). Water quality criteria
are used to determine whether a water body is achieving its designated
uses by specifying pollutant limits, such as the maximum allowable
concentration of a pollutant, or an important physical or biological
characteristic that must be met (for example, an allowable temperature
range). To develop criteria, states rely heavily on EPA-developed “criteria
documents.” These documents contain the technical data that help states
adopt pollutant levels that, if not met, may preclude a water body from
supporting its designated uses. States may adopt these criteria as
recommended by EPA, adapt them to meet state needs, or develop their
own criteria using other scientifically defensible methods.

The Clean Water Act also requires that states periodically review their
standards and revise them as needed. Before any revisions can take effect,
however, a state must submit them to its EPA regional office for approval.
Periodic review and revision of water quality standards is important
because the standards serve as the foundation of several water quality
programs, such as the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program. Under
this key program, waters that do not achieve water quality standards are
listed as impaired and then targeted for cleanup. According to EPA, over
20,000 bodies of water throughout the United States are impaired by one
or more pollutants.

In recent years, questions have been raised as to whether current water
quality standards are accurate and, therefore, whether the right waters are

Page 1                                              GAO-03-881T Water Quality
    being targeted for cleanup. My testimony will discuss our January 2003
    report on this subject, which was prepared at this Subcommittee’s
    request.1 As requested, we examined the extent to which (1) states are
    changing designated uses when necessary, (2) EPA is assisting states
    toward that end, (3) EPA is updating the criteria documents states use to
    develop the pollutant limits needed to measure whether designated uses
    are being attained, and (4) EPA is assisting states in establishing criteria
    that can be compared with reasonably obtainable monitoring data.

    To respond to the request, we conducted a Web-based survey of the 50
    states and the District of Columbia. We also interviewed officials from the
    10 EPA regional offices and conducted site visits to Kansas, Montana, and
    Ohio. We also met with, and obtained information from, officials from
    EPA’s headquarters and the Association of State and Interstate Water
    Pollution Control Administrators. Finally, we interviewed representatives
    of various interest groups, such as Earthjustice and the American Farm
    Bureau Federation.

    In summary, Mr. Chairman, we found the following:

•   The extent to which states are changing designated uses varies
    considerably. Individual states made anywhere from no changes to over
    1,000 changes during the 5-year period, from 1997 through 2001.
    Regardless of the number of use changes states have made to date,
    however, nearly all states reported that they have water bodies within
    their states that currently need changes to their designated uses.
    According to the states, they have not made needed designated use
    changes because of a number of barriers, including inadequate monitoring
    data and resistance from interest groups and affected parties. Importantly,
    another key reason has been uncertainty over the circumstances in which
    use changes are acceptable to EPA and the evidence needed to support
    those changes.

•   Many states said they need additional assistance from EPA to make
    accurate and defensible decisions on what some believe will be a much
    larger number of designated use changes in coming years. Specifically,
    they cited a need for additional EPA guidance to clarify both the
    circumstances under which use changes are acceptable and the type of


    1
     U.S. General Accounting Office, Water Quality: Improved EPA Guidance and Support
    Can Help States Develop Standards That Better Target Cleanup Efforts, GAO-03-308
    (Washington, D.C.: Jan. 30, 2003).



    Page 2                                                   GAO-03-881T Water Quality
    evidence needed to support those changes. EPA headquarters officials
    acknowledge this need and have formed a national working group to
    develop additional guidance on designated use changes. Such guidance
    would also (1) help clarify to EPA regional officials what state-proposed
    changes are acceptable and (2) promote more consistent review and
    approval policies across EPA’s 10 regional offices.

•   As required, EPA has developed and published criteria for a wide range of
    pollutants. However, EPA has not developed criteria for sedimentation
    (e.g., sand and silt accumulation) and is currently developing the complex
    criteria needed for nutrients (e.g., phosphorus from fertilizers and nitrogen
    from animal waste). According to EPA data, sedimentation and nutrients
    are key pollutants responsible for a relatively large share of the nation’s
    impaired waters. Hence, it is not surprising that states responding to our
    survey rank these two pollutants as their highest priorities for criteria
    development.

•   Even when EPA has developed criteria documents, some states have
    reported difficulty in using the documents to establish criteria in such a
    way that the criteria can be easily compared with reasonably obtainable
    monitoring data. As a related matter, states also expressed difficulty in
    modifying the criteria they already have in place, when necessary, to
    reflect new data or changing ecological conditions. While most states cited
    resource constraints as a barrier that affects their ability to make criteria
    modifications, more than half of the states also cited EPA’s approval
    process—noting, for example, insufficient assistance from their respective
    EPA regional offices in helping them understand the data necessary to
    justify a criteria modification.

    The difficulty states have had in developing accurate water quality
    standards has important implications for their efforts to correctly identify
    which of their waters are impaired. If they cannot use their standards to
    accurately target their impaired waters, they risk focusing their limited
    resources on cleaning up the wrong water bodies and/or exposing their
    citizens to health and environmental risks. Thirty states reported in
    response to our survey that if EPA improved the process of modifying
    standards through changes to designated uses and/or criteria, they would
    identify different waters for TMDL development. Significantly, this total
    does not reflect the effects on lists of impaired waters of new criteria for
    sedimentation and other pollutants being developed by EPA and the
    states. These criteria are also likely to affect which waters states list as
    impaired.




    Page 3                                              GAO-03-881T Water Quality
             Designated uses are the purposes that a state’s waters are intended to
Background   serve. Some waters, for example, serve as a drinking water source, while
             others are designated to serve as a source of recreation (swimming or
             boating) and/or to support aquatic life. The state must also develop water
             quality criteria, which specify pollutant limits that determine whether a
             water body’s designated use is achieved. These water quality criteria can
             be expressed, for example, as the maximum allowable concentration of a
             given pollutant such as iron, or as an important physical or biological
             characteristic that must be met, such as an allowable temperature range.

             To develop water quality criteria, states rely heavily on EPA-developed
             “criteria documents.” These documents contain the technical data that
             allow states to develop the necessary pollutant limits. EPA is responsible
             for developing and revising criteria documents in a manner that reflects
             the latest scientific knowledge. States may adopt these criteria as
             recommended by EPA, adapt them to meet state needs, or develop criteria
             using other scientifically defensible methods.

             States are also required to periodically review both their waters’
             designated uses and associated criteria, and make changes as appropriate.
             Before those changes can take effect, the state must submit them to EPA
             and obtain approval for them. EPA is required to review and approve or
             disapprove standards changes proposed by a state within 60 to 90 days.

             Figure 1 illustrates how states use water quality standards to make key
             decisions on which waters should be targeted for cleanup. States generally
             determine if a water body’s designated use is achieved by comparing
             monitoring data with applicable state water quality criteria. If the water
             body fails to meet the applicable standards, the state is required to list that
             water as “impaired”; calculate a pollution budget under EPA’s Total
             Maximum Daily Load program that specifies how compliance with the
             standard can be achieved; and then eventually implement a cleanup plan.
             Thus, as noted in 2001 by the National Academy of Sciences’ National
             Research Council,2 water quality standards are the foundation on which
             the entire TMDL program rests: if the standards are flawed, all subsequent
             steps in the TMDL process will be affected.




             2
              National Research Council, Assessing the TMDL Approach to Water Quality Management
             (Wash., D.C.: 2001)



             Page 4                                                  GAO-03-881T Water Quality
Figure 1: Water Quality Standards as the Basis for Cleanup Decisions




Page 5                                                 GAO-03-881T Water Quality
                       We asked the states to report the total number of designated use changes
States’ Practices in   they adopted from 1997 through 2001. While some states made no use
Changing Designated    changes, others made over 1,000 changes. At the same time, nearly all
                       states told us that designated use changes are needed. Twenty-eight states
Uses Vary Widely       reported that between 1 to 20 percent of their water bodies need use
                       changes; 11 states reported that between 21 and 50 percent of their water
                       bodies need use changes; and 5 states reported that over 50 percent of
                       their water bodies need use changes.

                       These percentages suggest that future use changes may dwarf the few
                       thousand made between 1997 and 2001. For example, Missouri’s response
                       noted that while the state did not make any use changes from 1997
                       through 2001, approximately 25 percent of the state’s water bodies need
                       changes to their recreational designated uses and more changes might be
                       needed for other use categories as well. Similarly, Oregon’s response
                       noted that while the state made no use changes from 1997 through 2001,
                       the state needs designated use changes in over 90 percent of its basins.

                       Many states explained their current need to make designated use changes
                       by noting, among other things, that many of the original use decisions they
                       made during the 1970s were not based on accurate data. For example,
                       Utah’s response noted that because of concerns that grant funds would be
                       withheld if designated uses were not assigned quickly, state water quality
                       and wildlife officials set designated uses over a 4- to 5-day period using
                       “best professional judgment.” As states have collected more data in
                       ensuing years, the new data have provided compelling evidence that their
                       uses are either under- or over-protective.

                       In addition to changing designated uses for individual waters to reflect the
                       new data, some states are seeking to develop more subcategories of
                       designated uses to make them more precise and reflective of their waters’
                       actual uses. For example, a state may wish to create designated use
                       subcategories that distinguish between cold and warm water fisheries, as
                       opposed to a single, more general fishery use. Developing these
                       subcategories of uses has the potential to result in more protective uses in
                       some cases, and less protective uses in others.




                       Page 6                                              GAO-03-881T Water Quality
                        According to responses to our survey, a key reason state officials have not
EPA Assistance and      made more of the needed designated use changes is the uncertainty many
Guidance Needed to      of them face over the circumstances in which use changes are acceptable
                        to EPA and the evidence needed to support these changes. EPA
Help States Make        regulations specify that in order to remove a designated use, states must
Defensible Designated   provide a reason as to why a use change is needed and demonstrate to
                        EPA that the current designated use is unattainable. To do this, states are
Use Changes             required to conduct a use attainability analysis (UAA). A UAA is a
                        structured, scientific assessment of the factors affecting the attainment of
                        the use, which may include physical, chemical, biological, and economic
                        factors. The results of a state’s analysis must be included in its submittal
                        for a use change to EPA. States that want to increase the stringency of a
                        designated use are not required to conduct a UAA.

                        UAAs vary considerably in their scope and complexity and in the time and
                        cost required to complete them. They can range from 15-minute
                        evaluations that are recorded on a single worksheet to more complex
                        analyses that might require years to complete. A Virginia water quality
                        official explained, for example, that some of the state’s UAAs are simple
                        exercises using available data, while others require more detailed analysis
                        involving site visits, monitoring, and laboratory work. In their responses to
                        our survey, states reported that the UAAs they conducted in the past
                        5 years have cost them anywhere from $100 to $300,000.

                        In 1994, EPA published guidance regarding use changes that specifies the
                        reasons states may remove a designated use. Nonetheless, our survey
                        shows that many states are still uncertain about when to conduct UAAs, or
                        about the type or amount of data they need to provide to EPA to justify
                        their proposed use changes. Forty-three percent of states reported that
                        they need additional clarifying UAA guidance. Among them, Oregon’s
                        response explained that water quality officials need guidance on whether a
                        UAA is required to add subcategories of use for particular fish species.
                        Virginia’s response indicated that the state needs guidance on what
                        reasons can justify recreational use changes, noting further that state
                        water quality officials would like to see examples of UAAs conducted in
                        other states. Louisiana’s response similarly called for specific guidance on
                        what type of and how much data are required for UAAs in order for EPA to
                        approve a designated use change with less protective criteria.

                        EPA headquarters and regional officials acknowledge that states are
                        uncertain about how to change their designated uses and believe better
                        guidance would serve to alleviate some of the confusion. Of particular
                        note, officials from 9 of EPA’s 10 regional offices told us that states need

                        Page 7                                               GAO-03-881T Water Quality
better guidance on when designated use changes are appropriate and the
data needed to justify a use change. Chicago regional officials, for
example, explained that the states in their region need clarification on
when recreational use changes are appropriate and the data needed
to support recreational use changes.

In this connection, an official from the San Francisco regional office
suggested that headquarters develop a national clearinghouse of approved
use changes to provide examples for states and regions of what is
considered sufficient justification for a use change. A 2002 EPA draft
strategy also recognized that this type of clearinghouse would be useful to
the states. The strategy calls on EPA’s Office of Science and Technology to
conduct a feasibility study to identify ways to provide a cost-effective
clearinghouse. According to EPA, the agency plans to conduct the
feasibility study in 2004.

EPA headquarters officials have also formed a national working group to
address the need for guidance. According to the officials, the group plans
to develop outreach and support materials addressing nine areas of
concern for recreational uses that states have identified as problematic. In
addition, the group plans to develop a Web page that includes examples of
approved recreational use changes by the end of 2004.

The national work groups’ efforts may also help address another concern
cited by many states—a lack of consistency among EPA’s regional offices
on how they evaluate proposals by their states to change designated uses.
Some states’ water quality officials noted in particular that the data needed
to justify a use change varies among EPA regions. For example, Rhode
Island’s response asserted that the state’s EPA regional office (Boston)
requires a much greater burden of proof than EPA guidance suggests or
than other regional offices require. The response said that EPA guidance
on UAAs should be more uniformly applied by all EPA regional offices.
Several EPA regional officials acknowledged the inconsistency and cited
an absence of national guidance as the primary cause.

EPA headquarters officials concurred that regional offices often require
different types and amounts of data to justify a use change and noted that
inconsistency among EPA regional offices’ approaches has been a long-
standing concern. The officials explained that EPA is trying to reduce
inconsistencies while maintaining the flexibility needed to meet region-
specific conditions by holding regular work group meetings and
conference calls between the regional offices and headquarters.



Page 8                                              GAO-03-881T Water Quality
                       While EPA has developed and published criteria documents for a wide
EPA Has Not            range of pollutants, approximately 50 percent of water quality impairments
Developed and          nationwide concern pollutants for which there are no national numeric
                       water quality criteria. Because water quality criteria are the measures by
Updated Key Criteria   which states determine if designated uses are being attained, they play a
Documents              role as important as designated uses in states’ decisions regarding the
                       identification and cleanup of impaired waters. If nationally recommended
                       criteria do not exist for key pollutants, or if states have difficulty using or
                       modifying existing criteria, states may not be able to accurately identify
                       water bodies that are not attaining designated uses.

                       Sedimentation is a key pollutant for which numeric water quality criteria
                       need to be developed. In addition, nutrient criteria are currently being
                       developed, and pathogen criteria need to be revised. Together, according
                       to our analysis of EPA data, sediments, nutrients, and pathogens are
                       responsible for about 40 percent of impairments nationwide. (See fig. 2.)
                       Not surprisingly, many states responding to our survey indicated that
                       these pollutants are among those for which numeric criteria are most
                       needed.3




                       3
                        Specifically, when asked to identify the top three such pollutants, the pollutants most
                       frequently cited were nutrients, followed by sediment and pathogens.



                       Page 9                                                         GAO-03-881T Water Quality
Figure 2: Percent of Impairments Nationwide Caused by Various Pollutants




                                        Recognizing the growing importance of pathogens in accounting for the
                                        nation’s impaired waters, EPA developed numeric criteria for pathogens in
                                        1986—although states are having difficulty using these criteria and are
                                        awaiting additional EPA guidance. EPA is also currently working with
                                        states to develop nutrient criteria and has entered into a research phase
                                        for sedimentation. EPA explained that the delay in developing and
                                        publishing key criteria has been due to various factors, such as the
                                        complexity of the criteria and the need for careful scientific analysis, and
                                        an essentially flat budget accompanied by a sharply increased workload.
                                        EPA also explained that for several decades, the agency and the states
                                        focused more on point source discharges of pollution, which can be




                                        Page 10                                            GAO-03-881T Water Quality
                     regulated easily through permits, than on nonpoint sources, which are
                     more difficult to regulate.4


                     Even when EPA has developed criteria recommendations, states reported
States Need EPA      that the criteria cannot always be used because water quality officials
Assistance to        sometimes cannot perform the kind of monitoring that the criteria
                     documents specify, particularly in terms of frequency and duration. Our
Establish Criteria   survey asked states about the extent to which they have been able to
That Can Be          establish criteria that can be compared with reasonably obtainable
                     monitoring data. About one-third reported that they were able to do so to a
Compared to          “minor” extent or less, about one-third to a “moderate” extent, and about
Reasonably           one-third to a “great” extent. Mississippi’s response noted, for example,
Obtainable           that the state has adopted criteria specifying that samples must be
                     collected on 4 consecutive days. The state noted, however, that its
Monitoring Data      monitoring and assessment resources are simply insufficient to monitor at
                     that frequency. Mississippi is not alone: a 2001 report by the National
                     Research Council found that there is often a “fundamental discrepancy
                     between the criteria used to determine whether a water body is achieving
                     its designated use and the frequency with which water quality data are
                     collected.” To address this discrepancy, regional EPA officials have
                     suggested that EPA work with the states to develop alternative methods
                     for determining if water bodies are meeting their criteria, such as a
                     random sampling approach to identify and set priorities for impaired
                     waters.

                     If a state believes that it can improve its criteria, it has the option of
                     modifying them—with EPA’s approval. In fact, states are required to
                     review and modify their criteria periodically. A state might modify a
                     criterion, for example, if new information becomes available that better
                     reflects local variations in pollutant chemistry and corresponding
                     biological effects.

                     In response to our survey, 43 states reported that it is “somewhat” to
                     “very” difficult to modify criteria. Not surprisingly, a vast majority of states
                     reported that a lack of resources (including data, funding, and expertise)
                     complicates this task. Nevada’s response, for example, explained that, like


                     4
                      Point source discharges include discrete discharges from individual facilities, such as
                     factories and wastewater treatment plants. Nonpoint sources of pollution are diffuse
                     sources that include a variety of land-based activities, such as timber harvesting,
                     agriculture, and urban development.



                     Page 11                                                        GAO-03-881T Water Quality
                        many states, it typically relies on EPA’s recommended criteria because of
                        limited experience in developing criteria as well as limited resources; in
                        many instances, developing site-specific criteria would better reflect
                        unique conditions, allowing for better protection of designated uses.
                        Significantly, however, more than half of the states reported that EPA’s
                        approval process serves as a barrier when they try to modify their criteria.
                        In this connection, respondents also noted that EPA’s regional offices are
                        inconsistent in the type and amount of data they deem sufficient to justify
                        a criteria change. Some regional officials told us that this inconsistency is
                        explained, in part, by staff turnover in the regional offices. Likewise, a
                        2000 EPA report found that less tenured staff in some regional offices
                        often lack the technical experience and skill to work with the states in
                        determining the “scientific feasibility” of state-proposed criteria
                        modifications. Our report concluded that additional headquarters
                        guidance and training of its regional water quality standards staff would
                        help facilitate meritorious criteria modifications while protecting against
                        modifications that would result in environmental harm.


                        Because designated uses and criteria constitute states’ water quality
Improvements to         standards, a change in either is considered a standards modification. We
Designated Uses and     first asked the states whether an improvement in the process of changing
                        designated uses would result in different water bodies being slated for
Criteria Could Have a   cleanup within their states, and 22 states reported affirmatively. We then
Large and Cumulative    asked the states whether an improvement in the process of modifying
                        criteria would result in different water bodies being slated for cleanup
Impact on Impaired      within their states, and 22 states reported affirmatively. As figure 3 shows,
Waters Lists            when we superimposed the states’ responses to obtain the cumulative
                        effect of improving either designated uses or the process of criteria
                        modification, a total of 30 states indicated that an improvement in the
                        process of modifying standards (whether a change in their designated
                        uses, their criteria, or both) would result in different water bodies being
                        slated for cleanup.




                        Page 12                                             GAO-03-881T Water Quality
Figure 3: States Reporting That Different Water Bodies Would Be Slated for
Cleanup if Improvements Were Made to the Process of Changing Standards




Importantly, the 30-state total does not reflect the impacts that would
result from EPA’s publication (and states’ subsequent adoption) of new
criteria for sedimentation and other pollutants, nor does it reflect states’
ongoing adoption of nutrient criteria. As these criteria are issued in
coming years, states will adopt numeric criteria for these key pollutants,
which, in turn, will likely affect which waters the states target for cleanup.

To help ensure that both designated uses and water quality criteria serve
as a valid basis for decisions on which of the nation’s waters should be
targeted for cleanup, we recommended that the Administrator of EPA take
several actions to strengthen the water quality standards program. To
improve designated uses, we recommended that EPA (1) develop
additional guidance on designated use changes to better clarify for the
states and regional offices when a use change is appropriate, what data are


Page 13                                                GAO-03-881T Water Quality
                  needed to justify the change, and how to establish subcategories of uses
                  and (2) follow through on its plans to assess the feasibility of establishing
                  a clearinghouse of approved designated use changes by 2004. To improve
                  water quality criteria, we recommended that EPA (1) set a time frame for
                  developing and publishing nationally recommended sedimentation criteria,
                  (2) develop alternative, scientifically defensible monitoring strategies that
                  states can use to determine if water bodies are meeting their water quality
                  criteria, and (3) develop guidance and a training strategy that will help
                  EPA regional staff determine the scientific defensibility of proposed
                  criteria modifications.

                  According to officials with EPA’s Water Quality Standards Program, the
                  agency agrees with our recommendations, has taken some steps to
                  address them, and is planning additional action. They note that, thus far,
                  EPA staff have already met with a large number of states to identify
                  difficulties the states face when attempting to modify their designated
                  uses. The officials also noted that, among other things, they plan to release
                  support materials to the states regarding designated use changes; develop
                  a Web page that provides examples of approved use changes; and develop
                  a strategy for developing sedimentation criteria by the end of 2003.


                  Mr. Chairman, this completes my prepared statement. I would be happy to
                  respond to any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may
                  have at this time.


                  For further information, please contact John B. Stephenson at (202) 512-
Contact and       3841. Individuals making key contributions to this testimony included
Acknowledgments   Steve Elstein and Barbara Patterson. Other contributors included Leah
                  DeWolf, Laura Gatz, Emmy Rhine, Katheryn Summers, and Michelle K.
                  Treistman.




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                  Page 14                                             GAO-03-881T Water Quality
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                         GAO also accepts VISA and Mastercard. Orders for 100 or more copies mailed to a
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                         441 G Street NW, Room LM
                         Washington, D.C. 20548
                         To order by Phone:     Voice:    (202) 512-6000
                                                TDD:      (202) 512-2537
                                                Fax:      (202) 512-6061


                         Contact:
To Report Fraud,
                         Web site: www.gao.gov/fraudnet/fraudnet.htm
Waste, and Abuse in      E-mail: fraudnet@gao.gov
Federal Programs         Automated answering system: (800) 424-5454 or (202) 512-7470


                         Jeff Nelligan, Managing Director, NelliganJ@gao.gov (202) 512-4800
Public Affairs           U.S. General Accounting Office, 441 G Street NW, Room 7149
                         Washington, D.C. 20548