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Region 3 Mid-Atlantic Streams Project Information

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Text reproduced from the publication, USEPA 1993. Regional Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program. EPA/625/R-93/012. September 1993. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC.

Figures and tables not reproduced here. The complete publication may be ordered from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Center for Environmental Research Information, Cincinnati, OH 45268. The publication request desk may be reached by phone at 513-569-7562.


Streams in the mid-Atlantic Highlands, an area that includes the Central Appalachians, the Central Appalachian Ridges and Valleys, and the Blue Ridge Mountains Ecoregions, are subject to heavy environmental stresses. Over a century of coal mining, deforestation, and urbanization have caused erosion, silting, and acid drainage in streams. This area also receives the highest rates of acid deposition in the United States. It is estimated that 12 percent of forested upland mid-Appalachian streams are acidic. More than half of all stream reaches are sensitive to acid deposition and may be subject to low pH episodes that are harmful to biota. The extent to which stream resources are affected by urbanization and nonpoint source pollution is unknown.

The Region III R-EMAP project focuses on the Central Appalachian Ridges and Valleys Ecoregion, which is affected by agriculture, some mining activity, urban nonpoint source pollution, and acid deposition.

The project goals are to:

The Region III R-EMAP project is part of the mid-Atlantic Highlands Assessment (MAHA). MAHA combines a number of complex state, Regional, and national environmental monitoring designs, including those of the EMAP mid-Atlantic streams monitoring project and the Temporally Integrated Monitoring of Ecosystems (TIME) project, an EPA program to measure water quality in acid-sensitive environments. When fully developed, MAHA will provide a suite of environmental assessment tools to integrate land cover information, other measures of human-caused environmental stress, and the biological assessment of stream and fish communities and agricultural and forest ecosystems.

Region III R-EMAP field teams will include EPA biologists and biologists from the states of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Experts from universities in Region III will participate in data analysis and overall assessment of the project. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was a cooperating agency in the initial field investigation, and other federal agencies are expected to participate in the future.

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The investigators will select and sample 100 sites in the Central Appalachian Ridges and Valleys Ecoregion. The sampling will include water quality, fish, benthic macroinvertebrates, and habitat quality. The response of indicators to environmental stresses will be tested at 10 additional sites selected for the presence of stresses (such as agricultural nonpoint sources, point sources, habitat disturbance, and acid deposition).

Investigators will also sample reference sites chosen to represent the least impaired conditions in the subecoregions. This sampling will require that the researchers refine and calibrate stream bioassessment methods and protocols for use in this ecoregion. The states currently sample invertebrates with a variety of gear and protocols. A comprehensive set of ecological protocols will be used in this project. The investigators will assess the methods used in this project and develop recommended standard methods for future use.

The data from all sites will be analyzed to produce an assessment of streams in the ecoregion and to perform a regional analysis of associations between stream conditions and environmental stressors. Table 3-1 lists the project milestones and schedule; Table 3-2 shows the tools and products to be developed.

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The project is designed to answer the following questions:

Ecoregions and subregions are based on soils, geology, geomorphology, and vegetation. The investigators will determine whether biota differ among subregions having similar stream conditions. (If biota are similar, data analysis would be more powerful if data from similar subregions are lumped together.)

Determining the current status of stream resources will provide the baseline for assessing the effectiveness of best management practices (BMPs) for pollution sources.

The project will not test causal relationships directly but will identify associations between impaired conditions and causal factors, such as acid deposition, acid mine drainage, nonpoint sources, and point sources. This information will help resource managers decide which problem is most important to address (for example, would it be most effective to mitigate acid mine drainage, to lobby for stricter regional controls on SO2 emissions, or to educate the agricultural sector to use BMPs?). It will also identify critical areas for protection and restoration efforts.

Together with the TIME and EMAP projects, the Region III R-EMAP project will provide data for assessing trends in stream acidification from deposition. The project will develop information on biological integrity and acid-base chemistry at the same sites.

The Region III project will attempt to integrate ecoregion-based assessments with state monitoring programs, using the EMAP design approach.


Thirty-one sites (Figure 3-1) considered the least affected by environmental stresses represent the baseline against which to compare the test sites. State biologists will select reference streams based on their knowledge of site conditions, mapped information, and field visits.


The investigators will use probability-based sampling design to select 44 R-EMAP test sites (Figure 3-2). The study will use a seven-fold magnification of the EMAP grid. Additional test sites will be used from the EMAP mid-Atlantic streams monitoring project and the TIME project.


Fish and macroinvertebrate communities will be collected as indicators of the response of ecological resources to habitat and exposure variables. Response measurements include species composition, abundance, and biomass. Investigators will assess the water quality parameters shown in Table 3-3 and will assess the habitat quality variables listed in Table 3-4. Finally, information will be obtained about industrial or other point source discharges, watershed land uses, human population density, fish stocking, urban development in the watersheds, barriers, and logging or other recent disturbances.


The sampling results will allow investigators to characterize and measure reference conditions for each subregion. The status of stream quality will be assessed by comparing the data collected from reference sites, impaired sites, and probability sites. Investigators will analyze associations among biological indicators, habitat quality, water quality, and external stressor information.



Ron Preston
Environmental Services Division
Region III
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
303 Methodist Building
11th and Chapline Streets
Wheeling, WV 26003

(304) 234-0245

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