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Water: Handbook

Water Quality Standards Handbook

EPA-823-B-12-002; March 2012


The Water Quality Standards Handbook: Second Edition provides guidance issued in support of the Water Quality Standards (WQS) Regulation (40 CFR 131, as amended).

We hope that this document will prove valuable by pulling together current program guidance and providing a coherent document as a foundation for state and tribal water quality standards programs. The WQS Handbook also presents some of the evolving program concepts designed to reduce human and ecological risks, such as endangered species protection; criteria to protect wildlife, wetlands, and sediment quality; biological criteria to better define desired biological communities in aquatic ecosystems; and nutrient criteria.

In June of 2007, we added selected links and resources designed to aid the reader in finding additional information. These links were updated again in 2012. The text of the WQS Handbook has not changed since EPA printed its 1994 WQS Handbook: second edition.

EPA regional offices and States may have additional guidance that provides more detail on selected topics of regional interest. For information on regional or State guidance, contact the appropriate regional water quality standards coordinator.

The WQS Handbook is intended to serve as a "living document," subject to future revisions as the water quality standards program moves forward, and to reflect the needs and experiences of EPA and the States.

Find Specific WQS Regulations and Other Documents

The Policy and Guidance Reference Library contains an index of EPA documents related to water quality standards, including those referenced in the WQS Handbook. You can sort the index alphabetically, by publication date, or by topic.

The Regulations and Determinations page, contains links to federal water quality standards regulations, determinations, proposed standards, promulgations, and withdrawals published in the federal register.

Browse the WQS Handbook

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

Note to the Reader

The WQS Handbook, first issued in 1983, is a compilation of EPA's guidance on the water quality standards program and provides direction for States in reviewing, revising and implementing water quality standards. The Water Quality Standards Handbook: Second Edition retains all the guidance in the 1983 WQS Handbook unless such guidance was specifically revised in subsequent years. Material in the Handbook contains only guidance previously issued by EPA; it contains no new guidance.

The guidance contained in each of the documents listed in the Introduction is either: 1) incorporated in its entirety, or summarized, in the text of the appropriate section of the WQS Handbook, or 2) attached as an appendix (see Table of Contents). If there is uncertainty or perceived inconsistency on any of the guidance incorporated into this Handbook, please contact us. Copies of any referenced document can be obtained by clicking on the hyperlink or visiting the policy & guidance reference library.

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