On March 26, EPA released its 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment, part of the agency's expanded efforts to monitor waterways and gather scientific data on the condition of US water resources. The survey's data was collected from approximately 2,000 sites and analyzed by EPA, state and university scientists between ’08 and ’09 and is the most up-to-date, comprehensive data available, according to an EPA statement.

According to EPA’s analyses, more than half of the nation's rivers and streams are in poor biological condition and are under "significant stress." The report finds that 55% of the nation's river and streams are in poor condition, 23% in fair condition and 21% in good condition.

Survey findings include:

• Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels, with 27% of the nation’s rivers and streams having excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40% high phosphorus levels. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.

• Streams and rivers are at an increased risk due to decreased riparian vegetative cover and increased human disturbance. These conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion and pollution.

• High bacteria levels were found in 9% of stream and river miles making those waters potentially unsafe for swimming and other recreation.

• More than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption.

 

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The survey results will provide a baseline against which EPA will be able to measure water quality conditions and the agency already is working with states to begin collecting ’13-14 data for the next survey.

The report concludes that these data show the need to address "the many sources of these stressors -- including runoff from urban areas, agricultural practices and wastewater -- in order to ensure healthier waters."

Nancy Stoner, EPA's acting water chief, suggested in a statement that the survey results may help the agency justify a pending guidance document on the scope of the Clean Water Act that the agency has long sought -- to ensure that upstream reaches, tributaries and other marginal waters are subject to regulation.

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