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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is embarking on a three-year study to determine the state of America’s lakes. According to the EPA, the Survey of the Nation’s Lakes is the first-ever attempt to assess real-world conditions by studying 909 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs whose profiles are representative of all lakes in the United States.

The survey is a joint effort among EPA, the states, and some tribes to accomplish the following:

  • determine the ecology of the lakes and the factors which influence their condition;
  • stimulate and implement ideas within all levels of government-federal, state, regional, and local;
  • build state and tribal capacity for monitoring and analyzing lake water quality data;
  • collect a set of lake data for better management of lakes; and
  • develop baseline information to evaluate progress.

Survey samples will be taken from natural and human-made freshwater lakes, ponds, and reservoirs next summer. Bodies of water included in the survey will be a minimum of 10 acres in area and at least 39 inches deep. The last time EPA catalogued the status of lakes was in 1972-1976, when 815 lakes were evaluated nationwide. The new study will resample 113 lakes from the earlier survey for comparison.

Researchers will look at water chemical quality, turbidity, color, conditions of shoreline habitat, and pathogen indicators. Other conditions will also be measured. Researchers will use the same sampling techniques among all lakes to provide uniform results and permit comparisons across the country.

This study is part of a larger EPA effort to assess coastal waters, rivers, and wetlands. A similar survey for wadeable streams was completed earlier this year. All of the surveys will be repeated to analyze the success of efforts to manage and improve overall water quality. The report on the lakes survey will be released in 2009.

More information about the Survey of the Nation’s Lakes is available online at www.epa.gov/owow/lakes/lakessurvey .