Biological integrity: a long-neglected aspect of water resource management
Water of sufficient quality and quantity is critical to all life. Increasing human population and growth of technology require human society to devote more and more attention to protection of adequate supplies of water. Although perception of biological degradation stimulated current state and federal legislation on the quality of water resources, that biological focus was lost in the search for easily measured physical and chemical surrogates. The "fishable and swimmable" goal of the Water Pollution Control Act of 1972 (PL 92-500) and its charge to "restore and maintain" biotic integrity illustrate that law's biological underpinning. Further, the need for operational definitions of terms like "biological integrity" and "unreasonable degradation" and for ecologically sound tools to measure divergence from societal goals have increased interest in biological monitoring. Assessment of water resource quality by sampling biological communities in the field (ambient biological monitoring) is a promising approach that requires expanded use of ecological expertise. One such approach, the Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI), provides a broadly based, multiparameter tool for the assessment of biotic integrity in running waters. IBI based on fish community attributes has now been applied widely in North America. The success of IBI has stimulated the development of similar approaches using other aquatic taxa. Expanded use of ecological expertise in ambient biological monitoring is essential to the protection of water resources. Ecologists have the expertise to contribute significantly to those programs.