Legal Aspects of a Federal Water Quality Surveillance System

Collection of water quality data is also important for the purpose of determining the present and future needs for water resources and for the purpose of determining the proper allocation of limited financial resources among those needs. In addition, such data are necessary in order to conduct research studies and in order to determine water quality trends for the purposes of long-range planning.

Perhaps the best way to collect such data would be to establish a national surveillance system designed to monitor the quality of the nation’s water resources. Such a national system is currently under consideration by the Federal Water Quality Administration.6 That system would involve the use of contemporary scientific data-gathering devices and telemetering equipment. Essentially, the system would consist of a series of surveillance stations located at various points along rivers and streams and at the edges of lakes and reservoirs. These stations would utilize automatic sampling and data-gathering equipment to monitor water quality, and would transmit the resulting information by automatic telemetering devices to central data banks for observation and analysis. Much of the scientific equipment necessary for such a system is fully developed and would require only minor modifications in order to operate effectively in the surveillance system. Other equipment might require further development before reaching an acceptable level of reliability and accuracy; but the technology for that development is available, and there is little doubt that such a surveillance system can be developed if the Government is prepared to move in that direction. It is the purpose of this Article to examine the legal mechanisms necessary for the establishment of such a system, to determine the extent to which existing laws can be used to that end, and to point out the areas in which some congressional action may be necessary in order to complete the legal foundation for a national water quality surveillance program.