New USEPA water quality criteria by 2012: GOMA concerns and recommendations

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The Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) was tasked by the five Gulf State Governors to identify major issues affecting the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) and to set priorities for ameliorating these problems. One priority identified by GOMA is the need to improve detection methods for water quality indicators, pathogens and microbial source tracking. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is tasked with revising water quality criteria by 2012; however, the locations traditionally studied by the USEPA are not representative of the GoM and this has raised concern about whether or not the new criteria will be appropriate. This paper outlines a number of concerns, including deadlines associated with the USEPA Consent Decree, which may prevent inclusion of research needed to produce a well-developed set of methods and criteria appropriate for all regulated waters. GOMA makes several recommendations including ensuring that criteria formulation use data that include GoM-specific conditions (e.g. lower bather density, nonpoint sources), that rapid-testing methods be feasible and adequately controlled, and that USEPA maintains investments in water quality research once the new criteria are promulgated in order to assure that outstanding scientific questions are addressed and that scientifically defensible criteria are achieved for the GoM and other regulated waterbodies.

Keywords: EPA water quality criteria, epidemiology, fecal indicators, Gulf of Mexico, pathogens, recreational waters

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