Science Inventory

Using Ecosystem Function in the Clean Water Act


Aron, J., R. Hall, D. Heggem, J. Lin, M. Philbin, R. Schafer, AND S. Swanson. Using Ecosystem Function in the Clean Water Act. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-17/138, 2017.


This work on ecosystem function can be used more widely to help USEPA and the nation manage ecological processes that underlie sustainability of water quality. The aim is to transfer experience from using ecosystem function for ecosystem restoration and apply it to the control of stressors, particularly NPS pollutants. Sustainability associated with resilient ecosystems is linked to the control of NPS pollutants, such as sediment, nitrogen, phosphorus, and pathogens, which are the primary causes of water quality impairments in the United States. This report shows how the assessment of ecosystem function can be utilized under the CWA in the development of an alternative to the traditional TMDL approach for restoring water quality. Examples demonstrate how assessments for ecosystem function can be used to restore salmon runs and to protect a drinking water source threatened by erosion. To be optimally effective, assessment of ecosystem function should be followed by analysis of assessment information to identify priority locations for remediation. The science of ecosystem function is ready for application to necessary investments in water and sanitation infrastructure and it is able to satisfy the growing demand to couple these projects with conservation of natural resources and integration of natural “green” ecosystems within the built environment.


Clean, fresh water is one of our most precious natural resources. The Clean Water Act was enacted to control pollution. It has been highly successful in controlling pollution at the point of contamination. Yet, there are still areas where vast improvements need to be made. Environmental monitoring for water quality results indicates pollution from nonpoint sources needs to be controlled. Water quality improvements will depend on solutions requiring a different way of thinking. This report gives examples, by way of case studies, showing how monitoring the drivers of ecosystem function physical processes will identify problems and target solutions for water quality and aquatic community improvements. Monitoring the drivers of ecosystem function physical processes can be an integral component of Clean Water Act activities by assisting communities to manage their natural resources to make a difference in the control of nonpoint source pollution.


EPA/600/R-17/138   (PDF,NA pp, 3324 KB,  about PDF)

Record Details:

Product Published Date: 10/31/2017
Record Last Revised: 12/19/2017
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 338104