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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Section 319 Success Stories, Vol. III: Introduction


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The Successful Implementation of the Clean Water Act's Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution Program

This document is the third volume of Section 319 Success Stories, the first volume of which was published in November 1994 and the second in October 1997. The first document illustrated the states' achievements in their initial efforts to implement their nonpoint source programs under section 319 of the Clean Water Act. The second volume demonstrated the maturation of the state programs and was replete with many examples of the documented water quality improvements, improved fisheries, reduced loadings, and increased public awareness that are a result of the many projects that have received section 319 funding.

Success Stories: Volume III contains approximately two new stories per state, highlighting some of the additional successes achieved since the 1997 publication. These stories demonstrate better-defined water quality improvements, as well as growing partnerships and funding sources, as state 319 programs expand and states learn increasingly more from past 319 demonstration projects. Collectively, they represent only a fraction of the section 319 project successes.

Nonpoint source pollution

After Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, the Nation's water quality community placed a primary emphasis on addressing and controlling point source pollution (pollution coming from a discrete conveyance or location, such as industrial and municipal waste discharge pipes). Not only were these sources the primary contributors to the degradation of our nation's waters at the time, but the extent and significance of nonpoint source pollution was also poorly understood and overshadowed by efforts to control pollution from point sources.

Today, nonpoint source pollution remains the Nation's largest source of water quality problems. It is the main reason that approximately 40 percent of surveyed rivers, lakes, and estuaries are not clean enough to meet basic uses such as fishing or swimming.

Nonpoint source pollution occurs when rainfall, snowmelt, or irrigation water runs over land or through the ground, picks up pollutants, and deposits them into rivers, lakes, and coastal waters or introduces them into groundwater. Nonpoint source pollution also includes adverse changes to the hydrology of water bodies and their associated aquatic habitats.

The most common nonpoint source pollutants are soils and nutrients that storm water runoff picks up as it flows overland to rivers and streams; for example, runoff from agricultural land and other treated open spaces, urban developments, construction sites, roads, and bridges. Other common nonpoint source pollutants include pesticides, pathogens (bacteria and viruses), salt, oil, grease, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals.

The most recent National Water Quality Inventory (1998) indicates that nonpoint sources constitute the leading sources of water pollution in the United States today. States and other jurisdictions reported agriculture as the most widespread source of pollution in assessed rivers, streams, and lakes, with hydromodification and urban runoff following as the second and third leading sources of pollution.

Nonpoint source pollution causes or contributes to beach closures, destroyed habitat, unsafe drinking water, fish kills, and many other severe environmental and human health problems. It also spoils the beauty and important functions of clean, healthy water habitats.

Nonpoint source pollution causes or contributes to beach closures, destroyed habitat, unsafe drinking water, fish kills, and many other severe environmental and human health problems.

Nonpoint source program—Section 319 of the Clean Water Act

Congress established the national nonpoint source program in 1987 when it amended the Clean Water Act with section 319, "Nonpoint Source Management Programs." States were to address nonpoint source pollution by

  • Conducting statewide assessments of their waters to identify those that are impaired (do not fully support state water quality standards) or threatened (currently meet water quality standards but are unlikely to continue to meet water quality standards fully) because of nonpoint sources.
  • Developing nonpoint source management programs to address the impaired or threatened waters identified in nonpoint source assessments.
  • Implementing their EPA-approved nonpoint source management programs over a multiyear time frame.
All states and territories and, as of September 2001, more than 70 tribes (representing over 70 percent of Indian Country) now have EPA-approved nonpoint source assessments and management programs.

INTRO-3 The stories highlight the range of best management practices, training programs, and other acitivites implemented to achieve measurable improvements in water quality.

In 1995, recognizing the growing experience of states, tribes, and localities in addressing nonpoint source pollution and the fact that state, tribal, and local nonpoint source programs had matured considerably since enactment of section 319 in 1987, representatives of EPA and the states, under the auspices of the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators (ASIWPCA), initiated joint discussions to develop a new framework for further strengthening state nonpoint source programs. These discussions continued for more than a year, spanning fiscal years (FY) 1995 and 1996, and resulted in new national section 319 program and grant guidance that EPA signed and ASIWPCA endorsed. This May 1996 guidance reflected the states' and EPA's joint commitment to upgrade state nonpoint source management programs to incorporate nine key program elements designed to achieve and maintain beneficial uses of water.

The guidance also provided for discontinuing competitive award of a portion of each state's annual section 319 grant award, thereby ensuring a firm annual planning target for each state at the outset of each annual award cycle, reducing the amount and frequency of administrative oversight and reporting, and offering greater flexibility for the states and territories in establishing priorities for the use of these funds. Additionally, a state that incorporates all nine key elements into its revised nonpoint source management program and has a proven track record of effective implementation of its nonpoint source programs is formally recognized by the Regional Administrator and the Assistant Administrator for Water as a Nonpoint Source Enhanced Benefits State. Nonpoint Source Enhanced Benefits States are afforded substantially reduced oversight and maximum flexibility to implement their state programs and to achieve water quality objectives. Thus, although EPA greatly streamlined the section 319 grants program for all states, it also provided further flexibility to the Nonpoint Source Enhanced Benefits States with complete programs and proven track records.

The nine key elements that form the core of the states' upgraded nonpoint source management programs are the following:

  1. Short- and long-term goals and objectives.
  2. Strong working partnerships with all key stakeholders.
  3. Balanced approach emphasizing statewide and watershed-level programs.
  4. Plans to abate known impairments and prevent significant threats to water quality.
  5. Identifying and progressively addressing impaired or threatened waters.
  6. Establishing flexible, targeted, iterative approaches.
  7. Identifying federal programs that are not consistent with state programs.
  8. Efficient and effective program management and implementation.
  9. Periodic review and evaluation of program success at least every 5 years.
All states and territories will have approved, upgraded nonpoint source management programs by the end of 2001.

Responsibility and funding for the 319 Program

EPA is divided into 10 regions, with offices in Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. Each EPA region has a Nonpoint Source Coordinator, who is familiar with the nonpoint source programs in each of the states, territories, and tribes in that region and the 319 funding process that supports them. In turn, each state has a designated Nonpoint Source Coordinator responsible for managing the state's nonpoint source activities and funds. For specific EPA regional and state NPS Coordinators, see EPA's web site at Where You Live.

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