The U.S. Geological Survey recently completed an intensive river quality assessment study of the Willamette River basin, Oregon. The most noteworthy finding was that across-the-board advanced waste treatment was not the answer to the problem of meeting stringent water quality standards established for the Willamette River. This implies that rigid nationwide standards and regulations are likely to result in unneeded expenditures in some river basins and in unachieved standards in others. It was also found that existing water quality data collected under monitoring- and surveillance-type programs are inadequate for defining the critical cause-effect relationships that control river quality problems. Intensive, synoptic surveys keyed to local problems and conditions are required to provide an adequate information base for making key management decisions.