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    Subject Term: "Water quality"

    8 publications with a total of 18 open recommendations including 6 priority recommendations
    Director: Steve D. Morris
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help achieve EQIP's purpose of optimizing environmental benefits, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to direct EQIP program managers to coordinate with the leaders of USDA's CEAP to help ensure that CEAP studies consider the practical limitations and trade-offs faced by program managers and to provide program managers with better information to target EQIP funds where they will optimize environmental benefits.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: Agency has not taken action.
    Recommendation: To help achieve EQIP's purpose of optimizing environmental benefits, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to revise guidance on state offices' EQIP allocation processes, stipulating that data on environmental concerns, where available, should be a primary factor influencing allocations within states.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: Agency has not taken action.
    Recommendation: To help achieve EQIP's purpose of optimizing environmental benefits, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to establish a review process at the regional level for review and concurrence of EQIP payment rates above a threshold (e.g., rates greater than 50 percent, with justification).

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: Agency has not taken action.
    Recommendation: To help achieve EQIP's purpose of optimizing environmental benefits, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service to modify guidance and ranking tools so that they more accurately value an EQIP application's anticipated environmental benefits relative to estimated costs.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: Agency has not taken action.
    Director: J. Alfredo Gómez
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better ensure that complete information is available to Congress and the public about federal funding and spending for Great Lakes restoration over time, the Director of OMB should ensure that OMB includes all federal expenditures for Great Lakes restoration activities for each of the 5 prior fiscal years and obligations during the current and previous fiscal years in its budget crosscut reports, as required by Pub. L. No. 113-76 (2014).

    Agency: Executive Office of the President: Office of Management and Budget
    Status: Open

    Comments: OMB's fiscal year 2017 Great Lakes Restoration Crosscut Report to Congress, dated January 2017, does not include the required information on federal agencies' expenditures and obligations. We will continue to review future years' reports to determine if they include this information.
    Director: Gomez, Jose A
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To take advantage of opportunities to collect UCMR data on additional unregulated contaminants, Congress should consider amending SDWA to give EPA the flexibility to select more than 30 contaminants for monitoring under the UCMR program if high-priority contaminants, such as those on the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) or contaminants of emerging concern, can be included at minimal cost, with minimal additional burden on public water systems, and while using analytical methods that EPA is already employing.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, Congress has not taken action to address this matter; we will continue to monitor actions and provide updated information when it becomes available.
    Recommendation: To optimize the ability of the UCMR data to support regulatory determinations, Congress should consider adjusting the statutory time frames for the UCMR and regulatory determinations cycles so that EPA can use the UCMR data to support regulatory determinations in the same cycle.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, Congress has not taken action to address this matter; we will continue to monitor actions and provide updated information when it becomes available.
    Director: Gomez, Jose A
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    4 open recommendations
    including 3 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should develop and issue new regulations requiring that TMDLs include additional elements--and consider requiring the elements that are now optional--specifically, elements reflecting key features identified by NRC as necessary for attaining water quality standards, such as comprehensive identification of impairment and plans to monitor water bodies to verify that water quality is improving.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials stated that they agree that broad implementation and monitoring requirements would be helpful, but disagree that they should issue regulations. Officials stated that they continue to follow the state Water Quality Management Plan requirement related to GAO's recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should ensure more consistent application of existing TMDL elements and to provide greater assurance that TMDLs, if implemented, can achieve tangible water quality results, identify regional offices with criteria for interpreting and applying such elements in reviewing and approving state-developed TMDLs and issue guidance with more specificity, directing all regional offices to follow the same criteria, including requesting that states provide more-detailed information about pollution causes and abatement actions.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said they had created a small workgroup to assess this recommendation. The group is continuing discussions about how to enhance consistent regional review. We will continue to monitor EPA's progress.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should place conditions on states' annual use of nonpoint source management and water pollution control grants to ensure that the funds meet the purposes for which they are awarded and achieve greater reductions in nonpoint source pollution associated with TMDL implementation, such as by targeting funds to states and projects that incorporate factors needed for effective TMDL implementation (e.g., targeting grant funds to projects where implementation plans have been developed and where external agency assistance is available).

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said that they believe the 2013 nonpoint source guidance substantially addresses this recommendation. Specifically, in April 2013, EPA issued revised guidance for awarding section 319 grants to states to implement nonpoint source management programs and projects. The guidance updates previous guidance to EPA regional offices and states in four key areas: (1) state nonpoint source management program plans, (2) funding distribution, (3) reviews of states' watershed-based plans, and (4) regional offices' annual progress determinations. While this encourages states to target nonpoint source funding to watersheds with TMDLs, it does not incentivize it with funding. EPA continues to discuss approaches to address this recommendation. GAO will continue to monitor the recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should obtain missing data that currently impede EPA's efforts to determine whether and to what extent TMDLs have been implemented or to what extent implemented TMDLs have helped impaired waters attain water quality standards by (1) directing states to use and report specific Geographic Information Systems data when implementing projects to which TMDLs apply and (2) requesting that USDA ask landowners who participate in conservation programs funded by the department in areas subject to a TMDL to disclose information on the location, type, and number of projects implemented under these programs.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said that they have created the Water Quality Framework to align and integrate the variety of water quality data in different systems. The first phase focuses on improvements to ATTAINS, the TMDL tracking system, to report on the status of healthy waters and restoring and improving impaired waters. EPA officials said that they have transitioned to the use of NHDPlus catchments to report on performance measures, allowing EPA to automate the calculation of data. In addition, in June 2016, EPA requested USDA to provide data on the location, type, and number of projects implemented by USDA programs. USDA has not provided the data. We will continue to monitor EPA's progress.
    Director: Trimble, David C
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    2 open recommendations
    including 2 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To help protect the quality of our nation's water resources, and to strengthen EPA's implementation of its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act's section 319 nonpoint source pollution control program, the Administrator of EPA should provide specific guidance to EPA's 10 regional offices on how they are to fulfill their oversight responsibilities, such as how to review states' plans for project feasibility and criteria to ensure that funded projects have characteristics that reflect the greatest likelihood of effective implementation and tangible water quality results.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In April 2013, EPA issued new guidance "Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories" for the nonpoint source program. The guidance includes a checklist that aligns with the intent of our recommendation to provide additional guidance to regional offices. In July 2016, we issued an update of EPA's progress on our recommendations. In it, we conclude that EPA's 2013 guidance does not provide specific instruction to the regional offices on how to review states' plans for project feasibility and criteria to ensure that funded projects have characteristics reflecting the greatest likelihood of tangible water quality results, as we recommended. In January 2017, EPA said that it looked broadly at ways to improve the program and remain committed to making technical and program changes as needed. We will continue to monitor EPA's efforts on this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To help protect the quality of our nation's water resources, and to strengthen EPA's implementation of its responsibilities under the Clean Water Act's section 319 nonpoint source pollution control program, the Administrator of EPA should, in revising section 319 guidelines to states, and in addition to existing statutorily required reporting measures, emphasize measures that (1) more accurately reflect the overall health of targeted water bodies (e.g., the number, kind, and condition of living organisms) and (2) demonstrate states' focus on protecting high-quality water bodies, where appropriate.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In 2013, EPA issued final "Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidelines for States and Territories." The guidelines require EPA regions to review some watershed-based plans in each state annually, for example. The new guidelines also require that half of a state's 319 allocation be spent on implementing watershed plans, which according to EPA, emphasizes overall health of targeted waterbodies. In July 2016, we issued an update on our recommendations saying that the EPA officials said that they plan to change the program's measures of effectiveness, but have not had time or resources to do so. EPA officials said they plan to create a workgroup to focus on creating a measure for the protection of healthy water bodies in 2017. In January 2017, EPA said that it remained committed to pursue a measure for maintaining high-quality waters. Until EPA takes concrete action on this measure, we will keep this recommendation open.
    Director: Trimble, David C
    Phone: (202)512-9338

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should resume data verification audits to routinely evaluate the quality of selected drinking water data on health-based and monitoring violations that the states provide to EPA. These audits should also evaluate the quality of data on the enforcement actions that states and other primacy agencies have taken to correct violations.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of May 2017, EPA reported that it had not resumed its data verification audits due to budgetary constraints, but was continuing on-site file reviews to support efficient and effective state programs. EPA completed 5 file reviews in 2015, 7 in 2016, and was planning to complete 10 in 2017. According to EPA, budgetary constraints may affect its ability to reach this goal. According to the agency, EPA continues to focus on developing its Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) Prime database, which it claims will reduce state burden, support effective management and prioritization of resources, and will enhance data quality and support the possibility of building an electronic data verification protocol. EPA said it plans to have the system operational in 2018. In addition, EPA said that it continues to provide training sessions as well as identify best practices that file reviewers can use to enhance file review implementation. For 2017-2018, EPA plans to continue quarterly national training events. A July 2017 report by EPA's Office of the Inspector General concluded that limitations to EPA's oversight tools impede the agency's ability to conduct consistent oversight of the national drinking water program and reduce the reliability of its monitoring and reporting data. The Inspector General did not make any recommendations because it concluded the agency is taking steps to address the shortcomings. For example, according to the Inspector General's report, EPA released the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal in September 2016. EPA water officials said the portal will enable public water systems and laboratories to report drinking water data electronically to primacy agencies. Utah became the first state to use the portal in March 2017 and EPA staff anticipate that five additional states will begin using the portal by the end of 2017. EPA anticipates this system will lead to fewer reporting errors, improved data quality, and reduced time needed to report state data to EPA.
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should work with the states to establish a goal, or goals, for the completeness and accuracy of data on monitoring violations. In setting these goals, EPA may want to consider whether certain types of monitoring violations merit specific targets. For example, the agency may decide that a goal for the states to completely and accurately report when required monitoring was not done should differ from a goal for reporting when monitoring was done but not reported on time.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of May 2017, EPA has not worked with states to establish a national goal for the quality of monitoring violations. EPA stated that, without the ability to conduct on-site data verifications using a statistically-based sample size, it is unable to derive a goal that would capture both completeness of state reporting to EPA and whether the states correctly assigned a violation for missed monitoring. EPA said that it intends to work with states to evaluate the establishment of a monitoring data quality goal once the new Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) NextGen data system has been developed and electronic data verification functions are incorporated into the system. In April 2015, EPA indicated that the agency intends to separate monitoring violations from reporting violations in the new SDWIS Primacy Agency (Prime) data system. According to EPA, this will enable the primacy agencies and EPA to better understand the nature of system violations and with the violations delineated in this manner, EPA will be able to consider developing goals for monitoring and reporting violations. As of May 2017, EPA is scheduled to have SDWIS Prime available for testing in September 2017 and available for state users at the end of March 2018. EPA will consider GAO's recommendation once SDWIS Prime is fully operational and it is able to better establish such a goal.
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should consider whether EPA's performance measures for community water systems could be constructed to more clearly communicate the aggregate public health risk posed by these systems' noncompliance with SDWA and progress in having those systems return to compliance in a timely manner.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In August 2017, EPA told GAO that it continues to use a variety of tools and resources to identify strategies that will enhance how the agency conveys to the public information on drinking water quality and potential health risks associated with exposure to contaminants. With regard to GAO's recommendation, EPA told us it had previously collaborated with the EPA Regional managers to identify language that would enhance the communication of aggregate public health risk to consumers in regards to community water system measures. EPA developed the "person month" measure because it describes the percentage of people served by community water system that receive drinking water that meets all health-based drinking water standards, accounting for the duration of violations that occurred. EPA piloted this measure in Fiscal Year 2007 as an indicator measure. In Fiscal Year 2008, the measure was elevated to a strategic plan measure with established targets. After receiving positive response regarding this measure, in Fiscal Year 2015, the agency developed a "person month" measure for tribal community water systems. According to the agency, EPA will continue to take comments on existing and future measures during its 5 year strategic plan reviews.
    Director: Trimble, David C
    Phone: (202)512-6225

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To better enable EPA and its partner agencies to minimize the environmental risks resulting from future disasters, the EPA Administrator should work with potentially affected federal land management agencies, the Coast Guard, DHS, and FEMA to determine what actions are needed to ensure that environmental contamination on federal lands, such as national wildlife refuges, can be expeditiously and efficiently addressed in future disasters. Potential actions include the development of protocols or memorandums of understanding or amendments to the Stafford Act if the agencies determine that amendments are needed to achieve the timely availability of such funding when responding to disasters involving federal lands.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In July 2016, EPA reported that the National Response Team considered this issue but decided that it was addressed by the Major Disasters, Section 405 of the Stafford Act and that no further action was needed. We will update the status of this recommendation when we complete our review of Section 405 and determine whether additional actions by EPA are needed to respond to disasters involving federal lands.
    Director: Stephenson, John B
    Phone: (202)512-6225

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should take a number of steps to further protect the American public from elevated lead levels in drinking water. Specifically, to improve EPA's ability to oversee implementation of the lead rule and assess compliance and enforcement activities, EPA should ensure that data on water systems' test results, corrective action milestones, and violations are current, accurate, and complete.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2017, EPA reported to GAO that the agency had been working with states through face-to-face trainings and webinars on the reporting of milestone data. GAO will continue to monitor these efforts and reevaluate whether water systems' test results, corrective action milestones and violations are current, accurate and complete subsequent to the completion of the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal and the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) Prime, described briefly below. However, until these new tools are complete, the status of this recommendation remains open. According to EPA, SDWIS Prime will be available for testing in September 2017 and for state use at the end of March 2018. In an earlier update to GAO in June 2016, EPA highlighted several of its efforts to improve data quality, noting that it had given greater scrutiny to such improvements due to recent concerns about elevated lead in drinking water. For example, its SDWIS regional coordinators review all SDWIS data submissions for accuracy and timeliness before approving submittals to the agency. In addition, EPA provides the Regions and the States with a data quality matrix report that gives metrics on the accuracy and timeliness of the last submission, after each quarterly submission. The agency has also focused on promoting electronic reporting of drinking water data through development of the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal, and is developing SDWIS Prime to improve state program efficiency, automate candidate violation notifications, increase data submission quality, and promote reporting of compliance monitoring data.