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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories




Region 1
Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
$4,552,302         Region 6
Arkasnas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas
Region 2
New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands
$4,552,302         Region 7
Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska
Region 3
Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia
$4,552,302         Region 8
Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Wyoming
Region 4
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee
$4,552,302         Region 9
American Samoas, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Nevada
Region 5
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin
$4,552,302         Region 10
Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Washington

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

This document is the second volume of Section 319 Success Stories, the first of which was published in November 1994. That document illustrated the states' achievements in their initial efforts to implement their nonpoint source programs under section 319 of the Clean Water Act. This second volume demonstrates the maturation of the state programs, replete with many examples of 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 II contains approximately two stories per state and one story per territory and tribe. Each story contains an overview of a state, territory, or tribe's 319 project. Some of the stories are updates of stories contained in the first volume of Success Stories, but most are new stories about projects that have been implemented since publication of the first volume. Collectively, they represent only a fraction of the section 319 project successes.

Nonpoint source pollution

The United States has made significant progress during the last 25 years in its commitment to clean up the aquatic environment by controlling pollution from industries and sewage treatment plants ("point source pollution"). We did not, however, do enough to control pollution that stems from diffuse, or nonpoint, 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 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 stormwater 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), salts, oil, grease, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals.

The most recent National Water Quality Inventory (1994) indicates that nonpoint sources comprise the leading sources of water pollution in the United States today. For example, of the 17 percent of rivers and streams surveyed by states, 36 percent were found to be impaired, and agriculture was found to be impairing 60 percent of those waters, with some of the other leading sources including hydrological/habitat modification (17 percent) , urban runoff and storm sewers (12 percent), removal of streamside vegetation (10 percent), and forestry (9 percent).

Nonpoint source pollution was also found to be a very significant source of pollution to lakes and estuaries as well. For these reasons, most of the waters listed by states under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act as failing to meet water quality standards are listed in whole or in significant part as the result of nonpoint source pollution.

Beach closures, destroyed habitat, unsafe drinking water, fish kills, and many other severe environmental and human health problem are related to nonpoint source pollutants. They also spoil the beauty of healthy, clean water habitats. Each year the United States spends $100 million through the section 319 program to restore and protect areas damaged by nonpoint source pollutants.

Nonpoint Source Program Section 319 of the Clean Water Act

Congress established the national nonpoint source program in 1987 when it enacted the Clean Water Act amendments of that year. The amendments included a new section that considerably strengthened the states' capacity to respond to nonpoint source pollution.

Section 319 established a three-stage program whereby states

  • conduct statewide assessments of their waters to identify those that are impaired (that do not fully support state water quality standards) or threatened (that presently meet water quality standards but are unlikely to continue to meet water quality standards fully) because of nonpoint sources;
  • develop nonpoint source management programs to address the impaired or threatened waters identified in the nonpoint assessments; and
  • implement their EPA-approved nonpoint source management programs to support their implementation efforts.

EPA has now approved assessments and management programs for all states and territories, and most states are now reviewing and upgrading their nonpoint source management programs to address nine key elements:

  1. . Each state program contains explicit short- and long-term goals, objectives, and strategies to protect surface and groundwater.
  2. The state will support working partnerships and linkages to appropriate state, interstate, tribal, regional, and local entities (including conservation districts), private sector groups, citizens groups, and federal agencies.
  3. The state balances its approach to emphasize statewide nonpoint source nonpoint source programs and on-the-ground management of local watersheds where waters are impaired or threatened.
  4. The state program (a) abates known water quality impairments from nonpoint source pollution and (b) prevents significant threats to water quality from present and future nonpoint source activities.
  5. The state program identifies waters and watersheds impaired by nonpoint source pollution and unimpaired waters that are threatened or otherwise at risk. Subsequent to its identification of these waters, the state will include them in more detailed watershed assessments. The state will help local areas develop and carry out watershed implementation plans.
  6. The state reviews, upgrades, and implements all program components required by section 319(b) of the Clean Water Act, and establishes flexible, purposeful, and iterative approaches to achieve and maintain beneficial uses of water as expeditiously as practicable. State programs include
    • A mix of water quality- or technology-based programs designed to achieve and maintain beneficial uses of water; and
    • A mix of regulatory, non-regulatory, financial and technical assistance as needed to achieve and maintain beneficial uses of water as expeditiously as practicable.
    • The state may also identify federal lands and activities that are not managed consistently with its state nonpoint source program objectives; if so, it may seek EPA help to resolve issues.
    • The state manages and executes its nonpoint source program efficiently and effectively, including necessary financial management.
    • The state will periodically review and evaluate its nonpoint source management program using functional measures of success, and on this basis will revise its nonpoint source assessment and management program at least every five years.

In Fiscal Years (FY) 1990 through 1997, EPA awarded nearly $571.5 million to states and territories under section 319. A small portion of the annual section 319 appropriation, one-third of one percent ($330,000), is by statute annually set aside for Indian tribes. To date, EPA has approved nonpoint source assessments and management programs for 11 tribes and they are receiving section 319 funding to support their nonpoint source programs (see Indian Nations: Prject Accomplishments and Long-term Plans).

EPA awards grants to states using an allocation formula based on population, cropland acreage, critical aquatic habitats, pasture and rangeland acreage, forest harvest acreage, wellhead protection areas, mining, and pesticide use to determine the amount to be awarded to each state. Each year, the congressional appropriation for section 319 is multiplied by the applicable percentage based on the formula to determine each state's allocation for that year. Each state or tribe is required to provide a 40-percent nonfederal dollar match.

Responsibility 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. In most states, this Coordinator is located in the state's water quality agency. In several states, however, the nonpoint source Coordinator is located in the state's conservation agency, health agency, or agricultural agency. Increasingly, decisions about funding and program priorities are made by a broad-based nonpoint source Task Force representing not only state agencies but other stakeholders at the state and local level.

Defining success

The objective of the Clean Water Act is to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." To help achieve this objective, EPA and the states have agreed on the following Vision statement, which was published in the Nonpoint Source Program and Grants Guidance for Fiscal Year 1997 and Future Years (May 1996): "All states implement dynamic and effective nonpoint source programs designed to achieve and maintain beneficial uses of water." EPA has also established a goal under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) that is designed to move us towards ultimate attainment of water quality standards: "By 2005, nonpoint source sediment and nutrient loads to rivers and streams will be reduced. Erosion from cropland, used as an indicator of success in controlling sediment delivery to surface waters, will be reduced by 20 percent from 1992 levels."

Many of the projects contained in Success Stories: Volume II directly address the Clean water Act goal of achieving water quality standards as well as the GPRA goals outlined above. In the "Highlights" discussion set forth immediately below, we summarize some of the pertinent information relevant to achieving water quality standards and to reducing pollutant loads. In addition, we highlight other successful state nonpoint source programs and projects that have not yet resulted in demonstrated water quality improvement but can be expected to ultimately help the states achieve their water quality goals. These include a range of activities such as implementation of best management practices, training programs, development of new enforceable policies and mechanisms, and volunteer monitoring activities.


Projects funded with section 319 dollars have over the past seven years resulted in a variety of water quality improvements, load reductions, and multilevel, interagency partnerships in watershed projects. Section 319 Success Stories: Volume II showcases only some of these successes. In this document, examples of reduced nutrient concentrations, pathogens, and other pollutants in waterbodies can be found in 20 projects in 16 states. Examples of trout returning and improved fisheries are documented in 12 projects in 10 states. This document reports that in four 319 projects in four states, shellfish beds have reopened. We have included examples of load reductions (decreases in the amount of nutrients entering waterbodies) in 20 projects in 18 states and tribes. Success Stories: Volume II also provides descriptions of multilevel, interagency partnerships in 13 projects in 12 states, and six new laws in five states are giving states the authority they need to control certain nonpoint sources of pollution.

  • Trout return and fish habitats improve Sediment from eroding croplands can enter streams. When it settles, this sediment covers the gravel beds that fish use as spawning grounds and alters the stream's overall characteristics. In addition, sediments often create wide, shallow streams that warm rapidly and provide habitat conditions that are particularly unfavorable for fish survival. Section 319 projects have resulted in many examples of trout returning and improved fish populations in rivers. Best management practices (BMPs) have improved habitats, decreased nonpoint source flows, and created clean water diversions. Trout are returning or fish habitats are improving in rivers in Idaho, Iowa, Montana, North Carolina, Wyoming, Ohio, Alabama, California, Colorado, the Cherokee Nation, and others.

  • Shellfish beds reopen. Pollution caused by urban runoff can adversely affect waters that contain shellfish beds. Elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria (bacteria normally found in the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals) contribute to the pollution and eventual closure of shellfish beds. Section 319 projects that control soil erosion, redirect manure applications, or form citizen monitoring programs have resulted in the reopening of shellfish beds in at least four states: Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

  • Reduced loadings. Rain washes silt and other soil particles off plowed fields, construction sites, logging sites and roads, urban areas, and strip-mined lands into waterbodies. Sediment and siltation can severely alter aquatic communities by suffocating fish eggs, adding pollutants to a waterbody, and interfering with recreational activities. Nutrients and toxic chemicals may attach to sediment particles on land and run off into surface waters when it rains. Section 319 grants used for vegetative filter strips in riparian (streambank) areas, constructed wetlands, detention basins, nutrient management, integrated pest management, and conservation tillage have all contributed to reduced loadings of sediment into waterbodies. Load reductions have been measured in projects in Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland, New York, California, Ohio, South Dakota, and other states.

  • Partnerships. Section 319 projects have also proved to be a catalyst for other groups and projects. A habitat restoration project in Pike Run Watershed, Pennsylvania, is a good example of this "multiplier effect." A new "Farmland Habitat Project" modeled after the Pike Run project will be implemented on an even larger scale by nine neighboring watersheds with a generous monetary award from a California Foundation. Other projects with outstanding partnership efforts are located in Colorado, Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Arkansas, Missouri, and other states.

  • New enforceable authorities. Section 319 of the Clean Water Act provides that states include both nonregulatory and regulatory programs to achieve nonpoint source controls. While most states place a priority on promoting nonpoint source controls through voluntary approaches such as financial assistance, technical assistance, and training, many states supplement or back up these approaches with enforceable authorities. These authorities range from specific prescription of practices (e.g., to control animal manure or to reduce erosion in urban developments) to more general back-up authorities that enable a state to order abatement of specific activities that are causing, contributing to, or threatening to create water quality problems. This volume provides examples of some new state enforce-able policies and mechanisms established in Vermont, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

For more information

The stories in this document are "thumbnail" sketches, nontechnical reviews that reflect only a small portion of each project's larger purposes. For further information, please call the state or local contact listed at the end of the story you wish to know more about. You may also contact EPA Headquarters Nonpoint Source Control Branch, Washington, DC 20460, at (202) 260-7100. You can also find us on the Internet: www.epa.gov/owow/test/nps.

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