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Critical Elements of State Bioassessment Programs: A Process to Evaluate Program Rigor and Comparability

Chris O. Yoder 1 and Michael T. Barbour 2

1 Center for Applied Bioassessment and Biocriteria, Midwest Biodiversity Institute, Columbus, Ohio
2 Center for Ecological Sciences, Tetratech, Owings Mills, Maryland

State water quality agencies face challenges to ensure that good science serves as the backbone of their monitoring and assessment programs. We developed a systematic process to evaluate their bioassessment programs to provide information about the overall technical rigor of the technical approach. Based on an on-site interview of the state program managers and staff an evaluation was produced that assigns one of four levels of rigor. Level 4 is the most rigorous and reflects a technical capacity to address multiple management uses of bioassessment data in water quality management. The remaining three levels of bioassessment rigor may be appropriate for some, but not all, of the water quality management program support needs that are in common to state programs. Accurately determining impairment and diagnosing categorical and parameter-specific stressors are fundamental tasks that states must accomplish in order to provide full program support. The evaluation process employs a detailed checklist and sliding scale of rigor for 13 technical elements. Detailed feedback is provided to each state via a technical memorandum that describes the specific technical components of the state’s approach, recognizes program strengths, and makes specific recommendations for making improvements. As a result it can serve as a road map for strengthening and refining programs to meet more rigorous needs. Thus far we have evaluated 15 states, including an iterative process that has been conducted in EPA Region V since 2002. This has prompted a concerted effort to develop a more detailed approach termed best practices in bioassessment.

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