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Templates for Developing Wetland Water Quality Standards

The templates are a tool to simplify development of protective wetland water quality standards (WQS).  They address the three components of a WQS: designated uses, criteria, and antidegradation. The templates also provide wetland-specific terms and language so regulators can tailor standards to suit the needs of the wetland and their state, authorized tribe, or territory*.  Once developed, the state may submit the wetland WQS to EPA for review and approval.

Why are water quality standards for wetlands important?

While existing WQS for surface waters may provide some protection, wetlands often need other WQS because they have different functions and different vulnerabilities. Wetlands exist as ecosystems along the margins (land–sea, land–lake, land–river) and in depressional landscapes (e.g., prairie potholes in the Midwest and kettle-hole wetlands in the northern U.S.). By season and location, wetlands experience variable water depth and velocity, soil type and saturation levels, vegetation, nutrient levels, sediment type, and oxygen demand, both within a given wetland and among wetland types.  Wetland-specific WQS are needed to provide robust protection for wetlands and their functions. 

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Why do the templates focus on narrative wetland water quality standards?

Most states do not have WQS specifically developed for protecting wetlands.  Establishing narrative criteria is typically the best approach when first developing water quality standards for these complex waters. Where feasible, states should develop numeric criteria to target specific pollutants and other parameters that could impact wetland functions.

*Hereafter, state means state, authorized tribe, or territory.
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How to Use The Templates

Use all three templates - designated uses, criteria, and antidegradation - to generate a complete narrative water quality standard for wetlands.

For each template, click at least one option (i.e., a boxed word or phrase) within each option group (i.e., group of connected boxes). To remove a selected option, simply click on it again. Please note that some option groups allow only one selection while others allow multiple selections.

Once you've completed your selections, click the Clean Up Template for Copying button. You can now select the text for copying.* If wish to go back and select other template options click the Revise Template button.

* The options in this tool are intended to be as comprehensive as possible, but they are not exhaustive; if an option is not provided, simply include it in the version submitted for EPA approval.

Template for Designated Uses

†Absent a UAA, if uses specified in §101(a)(2) or subcategories of such uses are not selected, such uses must be included elsewhere in the state's standards.
‡If protection of downstream water quality is not selected, such a provision must be included elsewhere in the state's standards (per 40 CFR §131.10(b)).

Template for Criteria


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Template for Antidegradation


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On July 26, 2016, U.S. EPA - in partnership with the Association of State Wetland Managers and the Association of Clean Water Administrators - hosted a webinar to provide information on a new template tool to help states, territories, and authorized tribes develop protective and comprehensive water quality standards for wetlands.  It also highlighted the efforts of two states that are currently working to develop water quality standards to protect their wetlands: New Mexico and New Hampshire.

Presentation Materials

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Term Definition
Abundance Measure of the population of one species in an ecosystem as compared to other species within that same ecosystem.
Antidegradation A policy to ensure the protection of water quality for a particular water body where the water quality exceeds levels necessary to protect fish and wildlife propagation and recreation on and in the water.
Baseflow Sustained flow of a stream in the absence of direct runoff. It includes natural and human-induced stream flows. Natural base flow is sustained largely by groundwater discharge.
Carbon sequestration Terrestrial, or biologic, carbon sequestration is the process by which trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide, release the oxygen, and store the carbon.
Cowardin This wetland classification system is used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the National Wetlands Inventory. In this system, wetlands are classified by landscape position, vegetation cover and hydrologic regime. The Cowardin system includes five major wetland types: marine, tidal, lacustrine, palustrine and riverine.
Criteria Statements of the conditions presumed to support or protect the designated use or uses of a waterbody. Criteria may be narrative or numeric.
Designated Use The description of an appropriate intended use by humans and/or aquatic life for a water body. Designated uses for a water body may include recreation, shellfishing, water supply and/or aquatic life habitat.
Diversity An ecological measure of the variety of organisms present in a habitat.
Ecosystem A natural unit formed by the interaction of a community of plants and animals with the environment in which they live. All of the elements of an ecosystem interact with each other in some way, depending on each other directly or indirectly.
Greenhouse gas Also sometimes known as "heat trapping gases," greenhouse gases are natural or manmade gases that trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse effect. Greenhouse gases include water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases.
Heterogeneity Characteristic of varying in structure or composition at different locations in space.
HGM The Hydrogeomorphic Classification for Wetlands. This wetland classification system categorizes wetlands by geomorphic setting, dominant water source (e.g. precipitation, groundwater or surface water) and hydrodynamics. The hydrogeomorphic (HGM) includes five major wetland types: riverine, slope depressional, flat and fringe.
Hydric Soil that is saturated or flooded with water for long enough during the growing season that its upper portion develops anaerobic or low-oxygen conditions.
Hydrology The study of the distribution, properties, and effects of water on the earth's surface, in the soil and underlying rocks, and in the atmosphere.
Hydroperiod An assessment of the characteristic frequency and duration of inundation or saturation of a wetland during a typical year.
Hydrophyte A plant that grows only in or on water or very moist soil.
Index of Biological Integrity (IBI) An integrative expression of site condition across multiple metrics. An index of biological integrity is often composed of at least seven metrics.
National Climate Assessment An ongoing U.S. government interagency effort on climate change whose directive comes under the Global Change Research Act of 1990. The goal of the National Climate Assessment is to enhance the ability of the U.S. to anticipate, mitigate, and adapt to changes in the global environment.
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) A national program under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act for regulation of discharges of pollutants from point sources to waters of the United States. Discharges are illegal unless authorized by an NPDES permit.
Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW) High-quality or ecologically unique waters, such as those within the jurisdiction of national and state parks and wildlife refuges including swamps or hot springs. The primary intent of establishing ONRWs is to protect waters having special environmental and recreational attributes. 40 CFR 131.12(a)(3) provides the highest level of protection to ONRWs under the antidegradation policy
pH A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a material, liquid, or solid. pH is represented on a scale of 0 to 14 with 7 representing a neutral state, 0 representing the most acid and 14, the most alkaline.
Reference Specific locality on a water body which is unimpaired or minimally impaired and is representative of the expected biological integrity of other localities on the same water body or nearby water bodies.
Section 303(d) Section of the Clean Water Act that requires states periodically to identify waters that do not or are not expected to meet applicable water quality standards. These waters are identified on the Sec. 303(d) Impaired Waters List. A TMDL must be developed for each waterbody on the Sec. 303(d) list. If a listed waterbody has multiple impairments, a TMDL must be developed for each impairment.
Section 305(b) Refers to section 305 subsection (b) of the Clean Water Act. 305(b) generally describes a report of each states water quality, and is the principle means by which EPA, Congress, and the public evaluate whether US waters meet water quality standards, the progress made in maintaining and restoring water quality, and the extent of the remaining problems.
Section 401 Water Quality Certification The requirement of Section 401(a) of the Clean Water Act that all federally issued permits be certified by the state in which the discharge occurs. The state certifies that the proposed permit will comply with state water quality standards and other state requirements.
Section 404 Establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. Activities in waters of the United States regulated under this program include fill for development, water resource projects (such as dams and levees), infrastructure development (such as highways and airports) and mining projects. Section 404 requires a permit before dredged or fill material may be discharged into waters of the United States, unless the activity is exempt from Section 404 regulation (e.g., certain farming and forestry activities).
Topography The relative positions and elevations of the landscape that describe the configuration of its surface.
Total Maximum Daily Load The sum of the individual wasteload allocations (WLAs) for point sources, load allocations (LAs) for nonpoint sources and natural background, and a margin of safety (MOS). TMDLs can be expressed in terms of mass per time, toxicity, or other appropriate measures that relate to a state's water quality standard.
Turbidity The thickness, opaqueness or reduced clarity of water caused by the suspension of sediments. The turbidity of rivers and streams increases after a rainfall.
Use Attainability Analysis (UAA) A structured scientific assessment of the factors affecting the attainment of the use which may include physical, chemical, and economic factors as described in section 131.10(g).
Water Quality Standard State-adopted and EPA-approved ambient standards for water bodies. The standards prescribe the use of the water body and establish the water quality criteria that must be met to protect designated uses.
Water Quality-Based Effluent Limits A value determined by selecting the most stringent of the effluent limits calculated using all applicable water quality criteria (e.g., aquatic life, human health, and wildlife) for a specific point source to a specific receiving water for a given pollutant.

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