U.S. Nationwide Lake Survey Underway

WASHINGTON, DC, December 6, 2006 (ENS) - To determine the health of America's lakes, ponds and reservoirs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decided to study 909 water bodies whose profiles are representative of all lakes in the United States.

"America's lakes shape the landscape and are at the heart of our natural heritage, health, and beauty," said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles.

"EPA's national state-of-the-lakes study will measure lake health, map priorities, and motivate grassroots stewardship, a cornerstone of the President's Cooperative Conservation agenda," he said.

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Manure from a Wisconsin dairy pollutes the shore of Lake Michigan. (Photo courtesy Public Citizen)
The three year Survey of the Nation's Lakes will be a joint effort among EPA, the states and some tribes, the agency said today. States will receive funding under section 106 of the Clean Water Act to conduct the lake survey.

The study is part of a larger EPA effort to assess coastal waters, rivers and wetlands. A similar survey, for wadeable streams, was completed earlier this year.

Researchers will look at water chemical quality, turbidity, color, conditions of shoreline habitat, pathogen indicators, and the biological condition of the benthic invertebrates that inhabit the sediment or live on the bottom substrates or in aquatic vegetation of lakes.

Survey samples will be taken from natural and human-made freshwater lakes, ponds and reservoirs next summer. Bodies of water included in the survey will be a minimum area of 10 acres in area and at least 39 inches deep.

Water samples will be tested for levels of nutrients, solids, bacteria associated with human and animal wastes, toxic metals, some pesticides and harmful organic compounds.

The last time the EPA catalogued the status of lakes was in 1972-1976, when 815 lakes were evaluated nationwide.

In April, the EPA's Monitoring Branch co-sponsored a planning meeting in Chicago with 140 lakes experts, including representatives from 45 states, to plan the Lakes Survey. Focused on the indicators and field protocols for the survey, the meeting was cosponsored by the Chicago Botanic Garden and the North American Lake Management Society.

The new study will resample 113 lakes from the earlier survey for comparison. Researchers will use the same sampling techniques among all lakes to provide uniform results and permit comparisons across the country.

The lake survey is expected to determine the ecology of the lakes and the factors which influence their condition.

Baseline information will be developed, and a set of lake data will be collected for management purposes.

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Algae blooms like this one in Washington's Lake Sammamish occur every summer, but blooms may be occurring more frequently as concentrations of nutrients in the lakes increase. (Photo courtesy King County)
The study also is intended to build state and tribal capacity for monitoring and analyzing lake water quality data.

The EPA says the study will "stimulate and implement ideas within all levels of government - federal, state, regional and local" on better lake management.

According to the Field Operations Manual for the survey, the EPA is undertaking the extensive project because recent critiques of the water monitoring programs have claimed the EPA and states cannot make statically valid statements about the condition of the nationís waterbody resources.

They have also highlighted the lack of data necessary to support management decisions.

These critiques have include the General Acounting Office (2000), the National Research Council (2001), the National Academy of Public Administration (2002), the Heinz Center Report (2002) and most recently the draft Report on the Environment (2003).

The Lakes Survey will provide a snapshot of the condition of America's lake resource on a broad geographic scale.

Results from this assessment will allow water quality managers, the public, state agencies and others to say, with known statistical confidence, what proportion of the nationís lakes are in poor ecological condition and identify key stressors affecting them.

Data collected from the lakes will be analyzed on both a regional and national scale for a report scheduled for release in 2009.