The limits of water quality criteria

Publication Name: 
The Environmental Forum
Publication Date: 
November, 2012
Authors: 

Ryan Kelly and Meg Caldwell

A rising tide of acidity is overwhelming the global ocean. Estuaries and near-shore waters fall under the jurisdiction of states and the federal government, mandating treatment under the Clean Water Act (CWA), but criteria for action are uncertain and unclear. The acidity of the marine environment has increased by roughly a third since 1750, changing chemical processes vital to life, including shell and coral formation and the growth of bony structures in fish. This massive change in ocean chemistry is a growing water quality problem that focuses attention on the surprisingly difficult business of determining whether and how a particular water quality standard has been violated. Such attention brings with it a larger question of whether water quality criteria are legally sufficient under the CWA if they are difficult or impossible to test as a practical matter, and highlights the changing role of the act as it is used to combat a new class of water pollution.