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Water: Biocriteria

Technical Assistance Documents for States and Tribes

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The EPA provides technical support for states and tribes as they develop biological criteria and biological assessment programs. Some technical assistance is applicable to all water bodies in general, and other technical assistance targets specific types of water bodies. Click the links for technical assistance documents applicable to:

All Water Bodies

2013 Biological Assessment Program Review: Assessing Level of Technical Rigor to Support Water Quality Management

This document provides a process for states and tribes to evaluate the technical rigor and breadth of capabilities of a biological assessment program. Using the program review process described in this document, states and tribes can identify the technical capabilities and the limitations of their biological assessment programs and develop a plan to build on the program strengths and address the limitations.

2011 Primer on Using Biological Assessment to Support Water Quality Management

This guide serves as a primer on the role of biological assessments in a variety of water quality management program applications, including reporting on the condition of the aquatic biota, establishing biological criteria, and assessing the effectiveness of Total Maximum Daily Load determinations and pollutant source controls. This guide provides a brief discussion of technical tools and approaches for developing strong biological assessment programs and presents examples of successful application of those tools.

2000 Stressor Identification Guidance

The Stressor Identification (SI) Guidance leads water resource managers through a formal and rigorous process that  identifies stressors causing biological impairment in aquatic ecosystems, and  provides a structure for organizing the scientific evidence supporting the conclusions. The ability to accurately identify stressors and defend the evidence supporting those findings is a critical step in developing strategies that will improve the quality of aquatic resources.

1992 Procedures for Initiating Narrative Biological Criteria

This guidance document describes EPA expectations regarding the development of narrative biological criteria, and helps to clarify and support the term narrative biological criteria as presented on the 1990 Biological Criteria National Program Guidance for Surface Waters. This document summarizes in a simple and easy to understand manner the historical background to biological criteria;  the linkage between biological integrity and reference; the use of reference as the goal to define and protect aquatic life uses, inform attainment decisions, and follow up regulatory actions. This document provides information on what is necessary to develop a narrative biological criterion –including and example- and recommends quantitative information to be incorporated into the assessment phase and eventually into a numeric criterion.

1990 Biological Criteria: National Program Guidance for Surface Waters

This document provides guidance for development and implementation of narrative biological criteria. More recent guidance documents on this page provide additional technical information to facilitate development and implementation of narrative and numeric criteria for each of the surface water types.

Lakes and Reservoirs

1998 Lake and Reservoir Bioassessment and Biocriteria: Technical Guidance Document

This EPA guidance document provides a tool to assist lake managers in using scientifically valid, practical biological assessment in the management of the Nation's lakes and reservoirs. The guidance was developed based on the experiences of existing state, regional and national lake monitoring programs, some of which are cited in case studies throughout the document.

2000 Status of State and Tribal Programs for Lakes and Reservoirs

This map depicts the status of the State and Tribal programs in their development of biocriteria for lakes in reservoirs in 2000.

Streams and Wadeable Rivers

2003 Developing Biological Indicators: Lessons Learned from Mid-Atlantic Streams

This document presents issues, discussed in the Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment workshops, arose in the development of biological monitoring tools for fish, invertebrates, and periphyton. It is aimed at agency scientists or managers tasked with implementing regional monitoring programs. The hope is that the lessons learned in the Mid-Atlantic pilot study may serve as guideposts in the development of indicators or management plans.

1999 Rapid Bioassessment Protocols for Use in Streams and Wadeable Rivers

The rapid bioassessment protocols were can be used to provide basic aquatic life data for water quality management purposes such as problem screening, site ranking, and trend monitoring.

1997 Biological Monitoring and Assessment: Using Multimetric Indexes Effectively

This report discusses the state of US flowing waters and the value of multimetric biological indexes in assessing and communicating their condition.

Estuaries and near Coastal Waters

2000 Estuarine and Coastal Marine Waters: Bioassessment & Biocriteria Technical Guidance

This document provides an extensive collection of methods and protocols for conducting bioassessments in estuarine and coastal marine waters and the procedures for deriving biocriteria from the results. Several case studies illustrate the bioassessment process and biocriteria derivation procedures.


2002 Methods for Evaluating Wetland Condition

Several documents have been published to upport the National Nutrient Strategy by providing states and tribes with methods to assess waterbody nutrient impairment and develop ecoregion-specific nutrient criteria.

The wetlands modules are a starting point to help states and tribes establish biological and nutrient water quality criteria specifically refined for wetlands. Here we link to the biological criteria-related documents in the wetlands modules. To view all wetlands modules click here.

1998 Wetlands Bioassessment Fact Sheets

This is a series of ten fact sheets describing how States and Tribes can develop biological criteria and conduct biological assessments in wetlands.

Coral Reefs

2010 Coral Reefs Biological Criteria: Using the Clean Water Act to Protect a National Treasure

This document provides assistance to coral reef managers on how to use the Clean Water Act and coral reef biological criteria as part of a comprehensive framework to organize their protection efforts. 

2007 Stony Coral Rapid Bioassessment Protocol

EPA's Stony Coral Rapid Bioassessment Protocol is an inexpensive, no-contact, non-technical underwater survey procedure designed for jurisdictions with coral expertise but limited funding and personnel. The protocol focuses only on scleractinian (stony) reef-building corals because of their fundamental importance to coral reef ecology and ecosystem value. This focus provides vital information for reef assessment and provides a strong foundation for characterization of other reef attributes.

2006 Bioassessment Tools for Stony Corals

EPA conducted a biological survey in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands to inform and calibrate a long-term monitoring strategy for development of coral reef biocriteria. Data from the biological survey were used to validate metrics and the approach that is described in the 2007 Stony Coral Rapid Bioassessment Protocol described above. Three publications have been finalized in support of this effort.

2006 Coral Reef Task Force Biocriteria Workshop

EPA hosted a workshop on biocriteria for coral reefs on May 5, 2006, as part of the 15th Coral Reef Task Force meeting in Washington, DC. Presenters gave a scientific and regulatory overview of biocriteria, within the context of the Clean Water Act, and covered EPA's efforts to support the development of biocriteria for corals.  The workshop spotlighted efforts by the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, and American Samoa to develop biocriteria for their coral reefs. 

1998 Development of Biological Criteria for Coral Reef Ecosystem Assessment

This paper assessed the feasibility of establishing biological criteria for assessing coral reef ecosystems. It established the groundwork for more recent coral reef bioassessment efforts.

USGS Publication: Analytical Approaches Used in Stream Benthic Macroinvertebrate Biomonitoring Programs of State Agencies in the United States

This report by the US Geological Survey provides a summary of different analytical approaches used in benthic macroinvertebrate monitoring across the US.

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