EPA Rapid Bioassessments Protocols
The EPA RBPs should be done anytime serious stream and river work is desired. These protocols are a prerequisite before any type of stream improvement or engineering is done. They serve as the backbone and the first step in the benchmarking of any stream or watershed. The protocols are semi-quantitative. In most instances a qualitative macroinvertebrate study should be done in conjunction with the RBPs in order to ascertain the rarity of species index and to assure that the RBPs have been properly done. The RBPs have some serious flaws as proposed by the EPA. The first flaw is that the EPA believes technician level workers can do them. We believe these people lack the proper experience and biological knowledge to accomplish the mission. The second fatal flaw is that they do not work well on spring creeks and limestone spring creeks unless the collector has an intimate scientific knowledge of these waters, which we do! The third fatal flaw is that a qualitative study should be run in conjunction with the RBPs at least for the first sampling. Because of the costs associated with these further studies some EPA officials believe this defeats the purpose of the protocols.
The EPA RBPs using the Hilsenhoff- Bode Biotic Index (HBI) is very good for organics. We question however, if the tolerance index for stressors as proposed by the EPA protocols is accurate for other types of pollution. The original papers that advocated such stress numbering were done by Hilsenhoff in 1988 and were for organic pollutants. Because Hilsenhoff's original work was limited to arthropods, nonarthropod tolerances were taken from Bode in 1988. The tolerance stress index as now proposed by EPA in 1999 is suspect in our opinion. The metrics as proposed by Barbour and others can be used to access many types of pollution but we believe the HBI index is the heart of the RBPs and works best with organics. This index does not work in AMD streams or for most other types of pollution. In most instances they should be done in spring or winter months. The RBPs are part of an integrated assessment using water chemistry, the physical conditions of the stream, and biological factors including macroinvertebrate populations as well as other stream fauna and flora.
The protocols also form the basis of any legal scientific report necessary to protect streams and to address the problems of NPDES permits. We are experts in such areas and therefore we believe proper studies with RBPs are the best avenue of protecting our waters.