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Water: Oceans, Coasts, Estuaries & Beaches

Beyond the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)

Ocean waters are susceptible to the impacts of pollution not only from ocean dumping, but also from point source pollution (discharges from pipes), nonpoint source pollution (from rainfall, snowmelt, or irrigation running over land or through the ground, picking up pollutants, and depositing them into rivers, lakes and coastal waters), air deposition (delivery of pollutants from the atmosphere to land or water), discharges and spills from vessels, loss of habitat (especially wetlands), introduction of invasive species, and mixing from adjoining surface and ground waters. A few of EPA's programs to address these sources are discussed below.

Point sources of pollution to coastal and ocean waters are addressed primarily through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, which evaluates permit applications based on technology- and water quality-based requirements. This system is enhanced by the Ocean Discharge Criteria, established by EPA under Section 403 of the Clean Water Act, which provide further requirements for point source discharges to ocean waters. These criteria are intended to ensure that no unreasonable degradation of the marine environment will occur as a result of a discharge and to ensure that sensitive ecological communities are protected. If the ocean discharge criteria are not met, a permit will not be issued for a discharge to ocean waters.

EPA and its Federal, State, Tribal, and local partners are also working hard to control nonpoint sources of pollution to coastal and ocean waters. Under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act, which applies nationwide, each State, Territory, and Tribe has developed and is now implementing an approved and upgraded nonpoint source management program. These programs include a combination of non-regulatory and regulatory tools, planning activities, technical and financial assistance, education, training, technology transfer, monitoring, and demonstration projects. Congress provides funding each year to assist the States, Territories, and Tribes in implementing their approved programs. EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also co-administer State Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Programs under Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990.


Example of non-point source pollution

Section 6217 requires all States and Territories with approved coastal management programs to develop coastal nonpoint pollution control programs. These programs must include management measures that are designed to attain and maintain applicable water quality standards under Section 303 of the Clean Water Act. States must also have enforceable policies and mechanisms that can be used to implement the management measures. If implementation of these initial management measures does not adequately protect and/or restore coastal water quality, the State or Territory then must implement additional management measures to address the remaining water quality problems.

EPA is actively supporting habitat protection and restoration efforts. Under the Clean Water Act, EPA and the Corps work together to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into wetlands and other waters. EPA has also established the Five Star Restoration Program to work with multiple partners to restore wetlands resources around the country. EPA's National Estuary Program (NEP), which includes 28 estuaries of national significance, is working hard to protect and restore coastal habitats. The NEPs also address other coastal pollution issues in each estuary, including assessing and managing the impacts of invasive species.

EPA has a number of initiatives to assess and address the impacts of air deposition of pollution into the marine environment. These efforts include funding atmospheric deposition monitoring in various coastal areas, convening workshops to focus attention on the issue of atmospheric deposition, and gathering data on the extent of various air pollutants in marine life and the associated risks to human health and the environment.

With respect to pollution from vessels, EPA works with other agencies to regulate discharges such as sewage, oil, air emissions, ballast water, garbage, gray water from cruise ships, and liquid discharges from Armed Forces vessels. EPA also actively participates in international negotiations to control pollution from vessels.

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