Page images

To achieve these goals, the USGS has formed two committee structures. Each NAWQA study unit has a local liaison committee, which provides for information exchange at the field level. This liaison committee includes representatives from agencies that manage or regulate surface and ground water in the project area. A National Coordinating Work Group, which is composed of representatives from Federal agencies that regulate and manage water resources, meets annually to define the information needs, from the national perspective, of those Federal agencies responsible for water quality.


In its review of the NAWQA program, the members of the National Research Council said, “Human health and environmental health are inextricably linked to our Nation's water quality. As our population grows and our water resources become intensively developed and stressed, water quality becomes a more important component of our political, economic, social, and environmental decisionmaking. Such decisionmaking cannot proceed without adequate information and understanding.”

The USGS total water-quality effort, capped by NAWQA, is designed to provide the kind of information needed about the quality of the Nation's waters to Congress and the citizens of this country. The information will be obtained on a continuing basis and be made available to water managers, policymakers, and the public to provide an improved scientific basis for evaluating water quality and trends in water quality in the United States. In fiscal year 1991, the first 20 NAWQA study-unit investigations will begin, ushering in a new era in the longstanding and ongoing water-quality efforts of the USGS.

[blocks in formation]

Nation's water resources and to how that quality may be changing.

Nitrate and Herbicides in Ground Water—Delmarva Peninsula

Elevated nitrate concentrations are prevalent in the shallow aquifer of the Delmarva Peninsula, located in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Sources of nitrate include septic systems, animal wastes, and fertilizers. About 18 percent of the samples of shallow ground water from the peninsula exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) drinking-water standard of 10 milligrams per liter of nitrate as nitrogen. The standard is based on concerns that excessive nitrate can cause methemoglobinemia (blue baby syndrome) in infants. The elevated nitrate concentrations exist both in urbanized areas (from septic systems) and in agricultural areas (from fertilizers and animal wastes).

Agriculture, the primary source of herbicides, is the most prevalent land use on the peninsula (about half the land area). The shallow depths to the water table, the high permeability of the soils, and the high rates of recharge all favor the migration of herbicides to ground water. Low concentrations of herbicides are common in the top part of the shallow ground-water system throughout the peninsula, but concentrations are lower than those of the EPA Health Advisories.

Bromide in Surface Water— Kentucky River Basin

High concentrations of bromide in streams in the Kentucky River basin occur during low flows in summer and fall and are linked to the discharge of brines produced by the oil and gas industry. Bromide is a concern because of its role in the formation of potentially carcinogenic trihalomethane (THM) compounds, such as bromoform, in the Lexington, Ky., drinking-water supply, downstream from major brine discharges. THM compounds form during the disinfection of water supplies; chlorine and similar ions such as bromine react with natural organic substances to form THM's.

The Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) established by the EPA for total THM's in drinking water is 0.10 milligram per liter, calculated as a 12-month average. The 12-month average concentration of THM's in the Lexington water supply has not yet exceeded the MCL during low-flow conditions, but TH M concentrations in individual finished water samples have exceeded 0.10 milligram per liter.

program pilot study sites.



Toxic Compounds in Surface Water—Upper Illinois River Basin

Potentially toxic pesticides and other synthetic organic compounds are detected in the water, sediment, and fish from streams in the upper Illinois River basin. High concentrations of atrazine (an herbicide) are detected in those parts of the basin used for agriculture (see “Atrazine in Streams of the Midwestern United States," p. 55). High concentrations of lawn and garden insecticides, such as diazinon, and herbicides, such as 2,4-D (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid), also are detected in storm runoff from urban and suburban catchments.

High concentrations of PCB (polychlorinated biphenyl) are detected in the sediments and fish tissues from streams in the Illinois Waterway. Concentrations of PCB in a significant number of fish samples exceed the Food and Drug Administration action level of 2 parts per million. At this level, the State Environmental Protection Agency warns that the fish should not be eaten.

Low concentrations of volatile organic compounds are detected in streams in the urban part of the basin. Chlorine in the structure of the compounds indicates that the compounds may be associated with the disinfection of sewage effluent.

Atrazine in Surface Water— Lower Kansas River Basin

Significant concentrations of atrazine are detected at many locations in streams of the

lower Kansas River basin. For example, during spring runoff in 1987, atrazine concentrations in intensively cultivated cropland in the West Fork Big Blue River ranged from 1.7 to 18 micrograms per liter. The median concentration was 9 micrograms per liter. During a low-flow survey of about 50 sites in 1988, atrazine was detected in samples collected at all of the locations and in higher concentrations than other widely used herbicides. Onethird of the locations had concentrations of atrazine exceeding 3 micrograms per liter, EPA's proposed lifetime Health Advisory level. Monthly concentrations of atrazine at the outflow of Perry Lake, a major Federal reservoir used for public water supply, recreation, and flood control, ranged from 1.7 to 7.0 micrograms per liter during the study period.

Inorganic Constituents and Pesticides—Central Oklahoma Aquifer

The Central Oklahoma aquifer has elevated levels of trace elements and natural radioactivity. Arsenic exceeds EPA drinkingwater standards in about 4 percent of the samples studied, and selenium and natural alpha radioactivity each exceed the standards in 12 percent of the samples. Many of the higher concentrations are detected in deeper ground water.

Pesticides are detected in about 16 percent of the wells sampled throughout the Central Oklahoma aquifer, most frequently in the urban area of Oklahoma City (29 percent

National Water-Quality Assessment

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small]

Several naturally occurring inorganic constituents exist in ground water throughout the Carson basin. These constituents include trace elements (particularly arsenic) and natural radioactivity. Trace-element concentrations in drinking water are greater in the downgradient portions of the basin; this increase is concurrent with a downgradient transition from granitic source rocks to lacustrine deposits. For example, more than 50 percent of the sampled wells in the Carson Desert, the farthest downgradient valley, exceed the State of Nevada drinking-water standard for arsenic.

The natural radioactivity of the area causes radon concentrations to exceed 500 picoCuries per liter in most of the ground water in the basin. The highest concentrations that locally exceed 14,000 picocuries per liter are in granitic rock and its sedimentary derivatives. In the Carson Desert, uranium concentrations locally exceed 1,000 picoCuries per liter in shallow ground water. Drinking-water standards do not currently exist for these constituents, but the levels are unusually high and may exceed standards that are under review.

Insecticides in Surface Water— Yakima River Basin, Washington

Use of the insecticides DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and dieldrin was banned in the early 1970's. During the irrigation season and during periods of high sediment erosion, however, concentrations of these compounds and their metabolites are found frequently to exceed EPA chronic toxicity criteria (CTC) and State of Washington standards in the water and sediment of the lower part of the Yakima River basin.

The CTC is 0.001 microgram per liter for DDT and its metabolites and 0.0019 microgram per liter for dieldrin. The amount of DDT and its metabolites remaining in the soil, particularly in agriculture soil, is large. Preliminary estimates indicate that, of the pesticides in the soil, less than 1 percent is transported from the basin each year. Thus, even though the use of these compounds was banned almost 20 years ago, water-quality standards will be exceeded for many years to COIne.


The intensive data collection and analyses for the seven pilot studies will be completed in 1991, followed by a 6-year period of less intensive assessment activities. During this 6-year period, other USGS programs, such as the Federal-State Cooperative Program, will support the studies of local and regional interest that were developed as a result of the NAWQA pilot studies.

In 1988, members of the National Research Council (NRC) Water Science and Technology Board began a 2-year evaluation of the NAWQA pilot program. The evaluation, completed in 1990, strongly supported the program. The NRC board members recommended that a national water-quality assessment be conducted because it is in the best interests of the Nation, and stated that the USGS was the appropriate agency to conduct the assessment because of the success of the pilot studies. In 1990 the President's fiscal year 1991 budget proposed implementation of the full-scale program, a proposal endorsed by Congress. Accordingly, the USGS fiscal year 1991 budget, appropriated by the Congress, includes $18 million to begin the first 20 studies of the full-scale, 60-study national water-quality assessment program.


People and Programs


cientific programs are administered

through the Geologic, Water Resources,

and National Mapping Divisions and supported by the Information Systems and Administrative Divisions. The National Center Of the USGS is located in Reston, Va., near Washington, D.C. Research and investigations are carried out through an extensive organization of regional and field offices located throughout the 50 States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Territory of Guam.

Geologic Division

he headquarters office of the Geologic

Division is located in Reston, Va., and consists of the Office of the Chief Geologist and six subordinate offices: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and Engineering; Regional Geology; Mineral Resources; Energy and Marine Geology; International Geology; and Scientific Publications. Assistant Chief Geologists in the Eastern, Central, and Western Regions act for the Chief Geologist in carrying out general objectives, policies, and procedures for the Division. Project operations are conducted by personnel located principally in regional Centers at Reston, Va.; Denver, Colo.; and Menlo Park, Calif.; and at field offices in Flagstaff, Ariz.; Anchorage, Alaska; Woods Hole, Mass.; Tucson, Ariz.; Reno, Nev.; and Spokane, Wash.; and the center for Coastal and Regional Marine Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Geologic Hazards Surveys. – The Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program is a national research effort conducted to reduce hazards and risks from future earthquakes in the United States. Specific tasks include evaluation of earthquake potential for seismically active areas of the United States and operation of global seismic networks.

The Volcano Hazards Program conducts research on volcanic processes to help reduce the loss of life, property, and natural resources that can result from volcanic eruptions and related hydrologic events. The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory on the Island of Hawaii and the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash., are the principal field research centers for this program. The Alaska

Volcano Observatory, a cooperative effort with State and academic organizations, is located in Anchorage. The Landslide Hazards Program emphasizes field and laboratory research on the active earth processes that result in ground failures such as landslides, mudflows, and debris flows. Geologic Framework and Processes.—The National Geologic Mapping Program conducts basic geologic research to acquire fundamental data on the Nation's geologic structure and the environmental and dynamic processes that have shaped it. Geologic mapping, geophysical research on the properties of Earth materials, age determinations of rocks, and modernization of mapping techniques are the main components of the program. Geologic maps provide the data required to address many societal and environmental issues, such as water-quality and toxic-waste issues; earthquake, volcano, and landslide hazards; and potential ground-water contamination by agrichemicals. The Deep Continental Studies Program conducts research to obtain information on the composition, structure, formation, and evolution of the middle and lower crust and upper mantle of the Earth. The Geomagnetism Program measures and interprets changes in the strength and direction of the Earth's magnetic field. Eleven geomagnetic observatories provide data for continually updating global navigational charts and maps produced by Federal agencies. The Climate Change Program conducts research on the natural variability of past climate, on the extent of human influence on natural patterns of change, and on the magnitude of climate change demonstrated in the geologic record in support of Federal global change research efforts. The Coastal Erosion Program provides geologic information on the nature, extent, and cause of coastal erosion. This information is used by Federal and State agencies to mitigate coastal retreat and land loss. Offshore Surveys.-The Offshore Geologic Framework Program conducts scientific investigations to acquire an understanding of basic geologic and geophysical characteristics of the continental margins, adjacent slope and deep-ocean areas, and the U.S. Exclusive


he U.S. Geological Survey,

a bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior, was established by an Act of Congress on March 3, 1879, to provide a permanent Federal agency to conduct the systematic and scientific “classification of the public lands and examination of the geological structure, mineral resources, and products of the national domain.”

As a Nation we face serious questions concerning our global environment. How can we ensure an adequate supply of critical water, energy, and mineral resources in the future? In what ways are we irreversibly altering our natural environment when we use these resources? How has the global environment changed over geologic time, and what can the past tell us about the future? Will we have adequate supplies of quality water available for national needs? How can we predict, prevent, or mitigate the effects of natural hazards?

Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating the scientific information needed to answer these questions are the primary mission of the USGS. This information is provided to the public in many forms, such as reports, maps, and data bases, that provide descriptions and analyses of the water, energy, and mineral resources, the land surface, the underlying geologic structure, and the dynamic processes of the Earth.

As the Nation's largest earth science research and information agency, the USGS maintains a long tradition of providing “Earth Science in the Public Service.”



Economic Zone. Results of these studies and analysis of new information are essential for energy and mineral resource evaluation and aSSes Sment. Mineral Resource Surveys.-The National Mineral Resource Assessment Program provides comprehensive multidisciplinary surveys to identify undiscovered mineral resources in the conterminous United States and Alaska and provides mineral-resource information for planning the use of public lands. The Strategic and Critical Minerals Program provides comprehensive information on domestic and world resources of nonfuel minerals that are essential to a strong national economy and defense. The Development of Assessment Techniques Program conducts basic and applied research on the origin and the geologic, geochemical, and geophysical characteristics of mineral deposit systems to develop concepts and techniques to improve the capability to identify and evaluate mineral resources. Energy Surveys.-The Evolution of Sedimentary Basins Program conducts multidisciplinary research to define the evolution of and the energy and mineral commodities in sedimentary basins in the United States. The Coal Investigations Program conducts geologic, geophysical, and geochemical research to develop scientifically based assessments of the quality, quantity, and availability of the Nation's coal resources. The Oil and Gas Investigations Program conducts basic and applied research on the generation, migration, and entrapment of petroleum and natural gas to provide reliable assessments of the oil and gas resources of the Nation that are critical to the development and implementation of national energy policies and strategies. The Oil Shale Investigations Program conducts research to assess the Nation's oil shale resources, including investigation of the structure and chemistry of oil shale deposits and identification of oil shale deposits suitable for exploitation under current environmental and technological constraints. The Uranium/Thorium Investigations Program conducts basic research to determine the nature and distribution of uranium and thorium resources, including newly forming uranium deposits and daughter products, such as radon, that may be health hazards. The Geothermal Investigations Program conducts basic research to determine the nature, distribution, and magnitude of the Nation's geothermal resources. These studies define the geologic and hydrothermal regimes of the various classes of geothermal resources and identify the crustal, geochemical, and hydrothermal processes that produce geothermal systems.

The World Energy Resources Assessment Program provides information on worldwide energy resources for use by other agencies in the development of national-energy, international-trade, and foreign policies.

Water Resources Division

he headquarters office of the Water Resources Division is located in Reston, Va. The Chief Hydrologist, the Associate Chief Hydrologist, and five Assistant Chief Hydrologists are responsible for the overall direction of the Division. National waterresearch programs are developed at Division headquarters under the direction of the Assistant Chief Hydrologist for Research and External Coordination. General direction of the Division's field programs is conducted through four Regional Hydrologists, located in Reston, Va.; Atlanta, Ga.; Denver, Colo.; and Menlo Park, Calif. Forty-two District Offices conduct the waterresources investigations and data-collection programs of the Division in all 50 States, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the Territory of Guam. National Water-Quality Assessment.—The National Water-Quality Assessment program seeks to provide nationally consistent descriptions of the quality of the Nation's water resources over a large, diverse, and geographically distributed portion of the country; provide a baseline for evaluating future trends in water quality and, where possible, define trends in water quality over recent decades; and provide an understanding of the factors influencing water quality. This information provides the basis to forecast change and evaluate the likely effect on water quality of various proposed remedial actions. Initial efforts include four surface-water and three groundwater pilot studies; 20 study units are planned for operation beginning in fiscal year 1991. National Water Summary.—The National Water Summary Program provides water information on a State-by-State and national basis to aid policymakers in the analysis and development of water policies, legislation, and management actions. Changing patterns in availability, quantity, quality, and use of water resources are summarized for use by government officials, natural resources managers, and the public. The principal products of the program are National Water Summary reports that describe hydrologic events and water conditions for individual water years and provide a State-by-State overview of specific waterrelated issues. Hazardous Waste Hydrology.—The USGS conducts research and investigations into the disposal of hazardous chemical and radioactive

« PreviousContinue »