The review panel was charged with reviewing two reports that were developed in parallel for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VA DEQ). The primary document reviewed by this panel was focused on determining whether existing chlorophyll-a criteria in the James River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, are protective of designated uses. The secondary report describes a new assessment methodology that the state of Virginia could use to evaluate attainment of its chlorophyll-a criteria.
During this review, the panel was asked to 1) provide general feedback on the content, structure, and editorial quality in these two reports, particularly whether they clearly convey the information needed to understand and evaluate the scientific arguments presented; and 2) to address seven main questions on the scientific and management issues raised in the documentation. A panel of five individuals with appropriate expertise in estuarine ecology, spatial statistics, and water quality criteria was formed in August 2016, and the team conducted their review of the provided documentation over the past few months.
The body of this report is organized by each of the charge questions, and near-term and long-term recommendations are described. Reviewers also provided specific comments to the clarity of the documentation, and came together to provide consensus feedback on the positive aspects of the proposed assessment methods. The recommendations identified by the review team for the near term (6 months to 1 year) can be summarized broadly below:
Refine the analysis in regard to segmentation in the James River, including consideration of response indicators and causal factors known to influence eutrophication (e.g., turbidity, nutrients, etc.).
Refine the effects-based analyses, quantitatively identifying new thresholds, developing conceptual models grounded in policy, and exploring a variety of statistical models and methods to characterize “low” and “high” risk.
Refine the assessment approach, based on the management needs and implications in the near term.
While the panel is supportive of efforts to improve assessment methods and relate water quality criteria to harmful effects, addressing the above recommendations will improve quantitative analysis and better align policy and management frameworks.