The Compendium of Water Quality Restoration Approaches

The Compendium of Approaches to Addressing Water Quality Problems organizes examples of successful water quality restoration efforts, where waters now meet standards or are significantly improved.

Many waterbodies across the country are impaired, and by a wide variety of pollution causes and sources. In most cases, a TMDL is the first step in restoring these waters, providing the pollution budget that serves as a foundation for implementation plans, regulatory activities, and/or on-the-ground restoration. Yet there are cases in which taking other actions before developing a TMDL may provide better opportunities to restore water quality. For example, the cause and source may be obvious and the solution relatively straight-forward. If water quality standards are met through these initial efforts, a TMDL no longer needs to be developed. In some cases, initial restoration activities are not intended to achieve standards, but instead will make developing the TMDL easier or more effective.

Early in this decade, EPA and the states assessed the effectiveness of Clean Water Act Section 303(d) implementation and identified non-regulatory changes to improve the program. The result was the “Long-Term Vision for Assessment, Restoration and Protection under the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) Program.”  Without changing program requirements, the Vision identifies six goals, including the Alternatives Goal, which encourages the use of the most effective tool for restoring waters – be it a TMDL or other approach.*

All examples in this compendium did not have (or were not influenced by) a TMDL developed for the pollutant in question when the approach was implemented. As a result, the examples can provide insight for restoring water quality in advance of developing a TMDL, but they may also be useful as methods to implement a TMDL. In either instance, the examples can be pieced together or otherwise adapted to the case-specific conditions of a particular water quality problem.

The compendium contains two related parts and works in the following manner:

  • Worksheet Tab 1: Find the pollutant(s) or pollution issue of interest on the Y-axis.
  • Follow that row through the various restoration methods listed on the X-axis.
  • If a number appears in the box matching the pollutant of interest from the Y-axis and the restoration method from the X-axis, there is a project example to investigate.
  • Worksheet Tab 2: Use the number from the matrix to look up that project on the “Key Chart.” Each number corresponds to a specific project and includes the name of the waterbody, waterbody type, jurisdiction, and information about the source(s).
  • Click on the associated hyperlink (if available) for the project of interest to access documents providing additional information. Further details can be obtained by contacting the responsible agency.

The examples and categories of approaches in this compendium are not exhaustive. Quite to the contrary, they are only the start of what is intended to be a living document, updated as the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) learns of new examples. The qualifications for inclusion are:

  • The waterbody meets (or is close to meeting) the water quality standard(s) on which the restoration efforts were focused, and that success was a result of those restoration efforts.
  • A TMDL for the pollutant(s) in question was not developed or in development at the time of the restoration effort, or if it was, it was not important to the restoration effort.

To date, ELI has drawn examples from personal communications with state and territorial staff, “success stories” on EPA’s website, and waters formerly listed in Category 4b of a state or territory’s Integrated Report but now meet the water quality standard(s) on which the restoration efforts were focused. Not all examples from these sources (personal communications, “success stories,” and waters formerly in Category 4b) are currently included.

To add an example to the compendium, please complete this form and email it to

This compendium is a product of Cooperative Agreement X7- 83592101-0 between the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) and the U.S. EPA. ELI alone is responsible for errors or inaccuracies. The information provided here is not exhaustive, and is meant only to advance the knowledge of and improve communication among state, tribal, and territorial staff.


* Inclusion of a water quality restoration approach in this compendium does not represent that the approach, if done in advance of TMDL development, will be reported as an “alternative” by EPA under the CWA 303(d) program measures. Discussion with regional EPA staff can help determine if a water quality restoration approach – whether included in the compendium or not – might be appropriate for inclusion under the CWA 303(d) program measures.