Water Quality: Inconsistent State Approaches Complicate Nation's Efforts to Identify Its Most Polluted Waters Page: 4 of 44
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Accountability * Integrity * Reliability
United States General Accounting Office
Washington, DC 20548
January 11, 2002
The Honorable Don Young
Chairman, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
House of Representatives
The Honorable John J. Duncan, Jr.
Chairman, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
House of Representatives
Although the precise number is not known, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) believes that over 20,000 bodies of water throughout the
country are too polluted to meet water quality standards. Among the
primary concerns associated with these waters are human health
problems, caused either directly by coming into contact with
contaminated waters or indirectly through consumption of contaminated
fish. Under the Clean Water Act, states must identify bodies of water that
are not meeting applicable state water quality standards and submit a list
of those waters to the EPA, along with an explanation of the methodology
used to identify them. To bring these waters into compliance with the
standards, states are required to establish a pollutant "budget"-or a total
maximum daily load (TMDL)-for each pollutant causing a body of water
to be impaired. A TMDL is the maximum amount of a pollutant that can
enter into a body of water without exceeding the water quality standard
for a pollutant.
In March 2000, we reported that states have little of the information they
need to assess the quality of their waters and, in particular, to identify
those that are impaired-a particularly serious problem, given the
resources needed to address such impairments.' Concerned about possible
inconsistencies in the way that states identify impaired waters and EPA
conveys information about such waters to the public, you asked us to (1)
identify and assess the effects of any differences in states' approaches to
identifying impaired waters, (2) determine how states ensure the quality of
data used to identify impaired waters, and (3) assess the reliability of the
information in EPA's database of impaired waters. To respond to your
1Water Quality: Key EPA and State Decisions Limited by Inconsistent and Incomplete
Data (GAO/RCED-00-54, Mar. 15, 2000).
GAO-02-186 Water Quality
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United States. General Accounting Office. Water Quality: Inconsistent State Approaches Complicate Nation's Efforts to Identify Its Most Polluted Waters, report, January 11, 2002; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc293344/m1/4/: accessed October 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.