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EPA's National Coastal Condition Assessment
Mixed Results for Water, Sediment, Biological Quality


Over 50 percent of the U.S. population lives near its coasts and around the Great Lakes; a number is increasing annually.

More than five years in the making, the EPA just released its 2010 National Coastal Condition Assessment, which reports only about a third of the nation's coastal and Great Lakes near-shore waters are rated good for water quality, whereas more than half are rated good for biological and sediment quality.

The assessment is part of a series of National Aquatic Resource Surveys designed to answer critical questions about the condition of waters in the U.S., and advance the science of coastal monitoring.

"Since more than half the nation's population lives near coastal waters, and that number is increasing every year, it is important for us to understand the condition of these highly productive and fragile habitats so we can properly manage and protect them," said Joel Beauvais, EPA deputy assistant administrator for water. "The latest science confirms we must keep paying close attention to our coastal waters, reduce the pollutants that are harming water quality, and protect those areas still in good condition."

Among the findings are:
  • When measuring phosphorus, (reportedly the most widespread stressor for water quality), nitrogen, water clarity, chlorophyll A, and dissolved oxygen concentrations, water quality is rated fair in 48 percent of coastal and Great Lakes near-shore waters and good in 36 percent of them.

  • Sediment quality is rated good in 55 percent of these waters based on low levels of sediment contaminants and sediment toxicity.

  • Biological quality (such as the health of the communities of bottom-dwelling organisms such as worms and clams) is rated good in 56 percent of the tested areas.

  • Change in conditions were mixed between 2005-2006 and 2010. Water quality remained unchanged, biological quality improved 17 percent, and sediment quality declined by 22 percent.

According to the report, excessive phosphorus, from sources that include fertilizers, is the greatest contributor to the poor water quality rating in coastal waters. It can result in undesirable algae blooms, lowered concentrations of dissolved oxygen, and reduced water clarity.

In addition, in almost all tested waters, contaminants in fish tissue pose a threat to sensitive predator fish, birds, and wildlife. The report cites the greatest contributor to that to be selenium, a naturally occurring mineral in the environment that may be increasing due to human activities.

EPA conducted the National Coastal Condition Assessment in partnership with state water quality agencies and other federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Surveys have already been completed for small streams (2004), lakes (2007), rivers and larger streams (2008-2009) and wetlands (2011). The EPA plans to continue to assess each of these water body types on a five-year rotating basis.

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May 26, 2019, 3:16 pm PDT

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