Environmental Management

, Volume 60, Issue 4, pp 598–614 | Cite as

Invertebrate-Based Water Quality Impairments and Associated Stressors Identified through the US Clean Water Act

  • Heather GovenorEmail author
  • Leigh Anne H. Krometis
  • W. Cully Hession


Macroinvertebrate community assessment is used in most US states to evaluate stream health under the Clean Water Act. While water quality assessment and impairment determinations are reported to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there is no national summary of biological assessment findings. The objective of this work was to determine the national extent of invertebrate-based impairments and to identify pollutants primarily responsible for those impairments. Evaluation of state data in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Assessment and Total Maximum Daily Load Tracking and Implementation System database revealed considerable differences in reporting approaches and terminologies including differences in if and how states report specific biological assessment findings. Only 15% of waters impaired for aquatic life could be identified as having impairments determined by biological assessments (e.g., invertebrates, fish, periphyton); approximately one-third of these were associated with macroinvertebrate bioassessment. Nearly 650 invertebrate-impaired waters were identified nationwide, and sediment was the most common pollutant in bedded (63%) and suspended (9%) forms. This finding is not unexpected, given previous work on the negative impacts of sediment on aquatic life, and highlights the need to more specifically identify the mechanisms driving sediment impairments in order to design effective remediation plans. It also reinforces the importance of efforts to derive sediment-specific biological indices and numerical sediment quality guidelines. Standardization of state reporting approaches and terminology would significantly increase the potential application of water quality assessment data, reveal national trends, and encourage sharing of best practices to facilitate the attainment of water quality goals.


Clean water act Invertebrate assessment Sediment Water quality management ATTAINS 



HG has a Cunningham Doctoral Assistantship funded by the Virginia Tech Graduate School, an Interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program Graduate Research Fellowship from the Virginia Tech Global Change Center, and a William R. Walker Graduate Research Fellow Award from the Virginia Water Resources Research Center. The manuscript was substantially improved by comments from Paul Angermeier, Lawrence Willis, and two anonymous reviewers.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Supplementary material

267_2017_907_MOESM1_ESM.docx (26 kb)
Supplementary Information


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological Systems EngineeringBlacksburgUSA

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