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Water: Surface Water Standards & Guidance

Surface Water Standards & Guidance

By establishing regulations and providing guidance to states, Indian tribes and U.S. territories, EPA strives to ensure that standards and other measures are in place to protect human health and aquatic life in our nation’s lakes, rivers, streams and other surface waters.

Water Quality Standards

Water quality standards define the goals for a water body by designating its uses, setting criteria to measure attainment of those uses, and establishing policies to protect water quality from pollutants.

Water Quality Criteria Recommendations

Section 304(a)(1) of the Clean Water Act requires us to develop criteria for water quality that accurately reflects the latest scientific knowledge. These criteria are based solely on data and scientific judgments on pollutant concentrations and environmental or human health effects. Criteria are developed for the protection of aquatic life as well as for human health as part of a water quality standards program.

Fish and Shellfish

Fish and shellfish are an important part of a healthy diet, but some fish people catch in the nation's waters may contain chemicals that could pose health risks. EPA provides guidance to state, tribal, and local governments on how to monitor their waters and issue fish consumption advisories when contaminant levels are unsafe. EPA also works with other federal and state agencies on programs to ensure the safety of shellfish and the quality of the waters in which they live.

Monitoring the concentrations of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic (PBT) chemicals in fish tissue is an important national activity for assessing the quality of U.S. waters and for tracking the effectiveness of pollution control programs. Since 1998, EPA has been conducting fish tissue studies to support critical agency programs including:

  • evaluating the water quality of U.S. lakes and rivers based on chemical concentrations in fish,
  • providing information to the public on the range and levels of chemical contaminants found in fish commonly caught and consumed by recreational and subsistence fishers,
  • applying fish tissue analysis as an effective approach for determining the occurrence of contaminants of emerging concern in U.S. waters, and
  • generating data to measure the effectiveness of air and water pollution control programs.

Cooling Water Intake Structures — CWA §316(b)

Cooling water intake structures can pull large numbers of fish and shellfish or their eggs into a power plant's or factory's cooling system. EPA is developing regulations under section 316(b) of the Clean Water Act requiring that the location, design, construction and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.

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