Washington The Clinton administration told states to clean up thousands of lakes and rivers without enough evidence to assure the right bodies of water were being targeted, a panel of scientists said Friday.
The National Academy of Sciences panel agreed water pollution remains a serious problem across the country. But its report is expected to provide support for the Bush administration and some in Congress who want to overhaul the regulation that requires states to develop broad plans to reduce runoff that is polluting lakes and streams.
In October, Congress suspended implementation of the regulation, which had been questioned by many states and strongly opposed by farming and business interests.
The federally required state cleanup plans, issued earlier last year, would cover about 21,000 bodies of water from lakes and ponds to segments of streams and major rivers that were determined to be too polluted for fishing and swimming because of stormwater and agricultural runoff.
States would have eight to 13 years to develop the plans and start cleanup and water quality restoration programs.
But a report issued Friday by an eight-member panel of scientists of the Academy's National Research Council said that the program needs to be re-examined with an eye toward improving the way impaired water bodies are selected.
The scientists concluded that many of the waterways were targeted without adequate information about water quality or enough scientific review, while still other waters in need of protection may not have made the list.
"Considerable uncertainty exists about whether some of these waters violate (pollution) standards," said the panel in a statement accompanying the report.
In Kansas, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed stricter water quality regulations for the state last year. While they didn't deal directly with runoff pollution, some agricultural groups feared they were a step in that direction.
And the EPA challenged the state's designation of more than 1,400 lakes and streams as not designated for swimming and subject to lower pollution standards.
This year, the EPA and the state reached an agreement under which Kansas will review its classifications for streams. Legislators also approved a bill setting up guidelines for doing that.
The national academy's report urges the EPA to revamp its runoff pollution program, possibly requiring new legislation from Congress, and develop "a more science-based approach" to determine where state efforts should be placed.
It also criticized the program's use of a broad criterion one based on whether a water body is suitable for swimming or fishing to determine when a section of a river or lake is in need of cleanup. Instead, different areas should be approved for different uses, scientists said.
Together, these changes would reduce the huge backlog of targeted bodies of water facing states under the program, the panel said.
"State agencies need to use better data and tools to establish appropriate water quality standards, determine whether standards have been violated and develop restoration plans," said Kenneth Reckhow, a professor at Duke University and the panel's chairman.
Reckhow, chairman of the National Institutes for Water Resources, said that "the state of the science is sufficient" to help states develop a more workable way to identify waters in need of the greatest attention.
Although criticizing the federal program, which stems from requirements under the 1970 Clean Water Act, the panel's report agreed that pollution from agriculture and stormwater runoff is jeopardizing water quality in thousands of lakes, rivers and streams across the country.