The objective of the Water Quality Act of 1987 is to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.” Monitoring strategies described by the U.S. EPA emphasize the need to accelerate biological sampling development as a regular part of surface water programs. ORSANCO and its eight members states are aggressively pursuing the development of a tool to describe and monitor Ohio River biological processes to maintain and improve the quality of the system.

Biological criteria, or biocriteria, are numeric values or narrative expressions that describe a preferred biological condition. Typically, indices are created that numerically express the condition of specific attributes of an aquatic community, such as fish, macroinvertebrates or algae. Biocriteria are a direct measure of the condition of a water resource at a particular location.

In the past, scientists had relied upon chemical-specific and effluent toxicity testing to predict the impacts of contaminants on the environment. Measurements were made in laboratories in order to predict occurrences in the environment. This extrapolation was the best technology available at the time. Biocriteria have recently provided scientists the ability to measure environmental impacts in the field without relying upon extrapolation: It is a real-time measurement of biological conditions.

Biocriteria allow for the detection of problems that other methods may miss or underestimate. They also provide a systematic process for measuring the water resource management program effectiveness. In addition, they allow for permit adequacy evaluation and provide a means for measuring status and trends.

Click on this link for a short report about Using Fish to Evaluate the Ohio River.

For more information about ORSANCO’s Biocriteria Development Program, contact Rob Tewes.