The Future of Water Quality

There are two lessons to draw from the current state of water-quality policy in the United States. First, a better monitoring system is necessary. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has several recommendations, including a requirement that states use a uniform, numeric biological criterion for river and streams, increased federal funding for states whose monitoring efforts are inadequate, and a set of sampling guidelines to be consistently applied in all 50 states.

Given the complexity and difficulty of water monitoring, it is probably not possible to gather comprehensive monitoring data on an annual basis as is done for air quality, but some reliable measures must be developed. Second, the experience of the Pamlico-Tar river basin shows the promise of using cooperative approaches that emphasize incentives and markets for tradable gains among affected parties. Early efforts at water quality improvement are a prototype for what is being called "civic environmentalism," an approach that emphasizes the harnessing of local knowledge and decentralized decision-making.42