After you have explored available data and selected a water body type, the next step is to develop effective management goals that are clear and concise and that can support the link between numeric criteria and protecting designated uses. Management goals are narrative statements that express the desired condition of an aquatic system. Once your management goals are in place, you can use them as a guide in developing conceptual models that relate nutrient pollution thresholds to assessment endpoints in the problem formulation phase.
Developing Management Goals
Management goals are made up of desired characteristics that the public wants to protect. Federal, state, and local regulations can be a good starting point for developing these goals. For example, the overarching goal of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” As a result, EPA has translated this goal into guidance and regulations that include water quality criteria and standards for nutrients. As part of the process of developing nutrient criteria, the various uses states have designated for their waters further articulate CWA’s key goal.
State-adopted narrative nutrient criteria also can be helpful in developing management goals. Narrative nutrient criteria elaborate on the conditions necessary to support designated uses such as those listed above. For example, a narrative nutrient criterion may describe the absence of imbalance in algal communities as necessary for the protection of fish and wildlife (e.g., Surface waters must be free from nutrients that produce a predominance of undesirable aquatic life).
These examples of designated uses and narrative criteria, however, generally lack sufficient detail to be used as management goals. To be effective for deriving criteria, your management goals should explicitly state the desired level of support and describe the overall processes, entities, and conditions you want to protect.
Consider these questions to help you define management goals:
- What does the desired quality (e.g., sustainability, support, integrity) mean to the particular water body or system?
- Which resources and processes are to be protected and sustained, and why?
- How will I know when the goal has been achieved?
Below are several examples of how common general goals expressed in the context of designated uses (e.g., fishing and swimming) can be refined into effective management goals.
Examples of Management Goals
Management goals for most water bodies (lakes, rivers, and estuaries) advocate support of specific aquatic life uses such as wildlife habitat or cold or warm water fisheries. They should clearly describe the group of organisms and relevant ecological relationships required to achieve the desired level of support. For example, a management goal to support aquatic use and/or wildlife habitat can be articulated in following manner:
(1) To maintain a sustainable aquatic habitat that supports vegetation, fish, and invertebrates, which in turn preserves or enhances its use as by wildlife (e.g., waterfowl), or
(2) To support the propagation of fish.
When a management goal is established to support recreational uses, it should describe the types of primary or secondary contact recreational activities expected by the users as well as the conditions (e.g., absence of nuisance or harmful algal blooms [HABs]) that would allow for or increase the desirability of users recreating in the particular water body. For example, the following management goals in support of recreational uses could be applied across most water bodies:
(1) To support conditions that allow activities such as swimming, wading, waterskiing, skin and SCUBA diving, surfing, and whitewater activities;
(2) To support activities such as picnicking, sunbathing, beachcombing, camping, boating, and fishing; and
(3) To prevent nuisance algal blooms and HABs.
Likewise, management goals in support of commercial and sport fishing uses could be articulated as follows:
(1) To support commercial and sports fisheries, and
(2) To prevent nuisance algal blooms and HABs.
For water bodies with designated uses such as drinking water supply for lakes and shellfish harvesting in estuaries, management goals should describe the elements required to support the desired level of each particular use. For example, if a lake’s designated use is drinking water supply, an effective management goal to support that use should describe the types of organisms (e.g., algae) or toxic substances, and any taste, odors, or nutrient concentrations to be controlled to avoid undesirable health problems as well as damages in infrastructure or decreased quality of service delivery. As a result, management goals established to support the use of lakes as drinking water supply might include the following:
(1) To prevent algal blooms that can clog intake pipes,
(2) To prevent certain blue-green algae that result in release of toxic substances,
(3) To prevent algal growth that can result in taste and odor problems in finished water, and
(4) To prevent elevated nitrate concentrations exceeding 10 mg/L to protect human health.
In contrast, management goals in support of shellfish harvesting in estuaries usually describe the types of habitats and organisms required to promote harvesting rather than any species or associated toxic substances (e.g., blue-green algae) to be avoided. Thus, a management goal in support of shellfish harvesting in estuaries might express support for habitats suitable for the collection of crustaceans and filter-feeding shellfish (e.g., clams, oysters, and mussels) for human consumption.
Furthermore, in cases in which a broad-level management goal for a particular water body has been articulated by the public, a common and acceptable practice of water quality managers is to create a set of water quality objectives that must be achieved in a particular water body for the goal to be met, including the ecological values that can be used to measure it. For example, if the management goal for an estuary is to support a diverse native fish and shellfish population and to sustain recreational and commercial activities, following is a potential list of water quality objectives to be considered in developing your criteria:
- Prevent eutrophication of upstream rivers.
- Maintain diversity of native biotic communities.
- Reduce or eliminate nuisance macroalgal growth.
- Prevent HABs.
- Increase the distribution and size of eelgrass beds and associated aquatic communities.
- Prevent the effects of nonpoint source pollution on shellfish.
In addition to providing an operational definition to your management goal, water quality objectives can help identify the ecological entities and attributes to be used as assessment endpoints during the problem formulation phase.
In summary, management goals and associated water quality objectives articulate the designated uses for a water body the public considers important enough to protect and maintain. By developing clearly articulated management goals, you have created an important part of the next step in deriving criteria: selecting assessment endpoints.