A Description of Nonpoint Water Pollution as a Major Problem Throughout the World

Non-point Water Pollution has always been a major problem throughout the world, especially the United States. The lack of suitable water used for drinking, agriculture, farming, etc. has declined through the years. With a shortage of water in most of the United States, proper methods of treating an recycling water is the key goal in sustaining our limited water resources supply.

Most people believe that the largest source of water pollution comes form a pipe, which originates from factories and sewage treatment plants. But the fact is that the largest source of water pollution in rivers, lakes, and streams does not come from pipes, but from surface run-off. This type of pollution is called "non-point source" pollution. NPS 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 ground water. Imagine the path taken by a drop of rain from the time it hits the ground to when it reaches a river, ground water, or the ocean. Any pollutant it picks up on its journey can become part of the NPS problem. NPS pollution also includes adverse changes to the vegetation, shape, and flow of streams and other aquatic systems. Non-point source pollution results from a wide variety of human activities on the land. Each of us can contribute to the problem without even realizing it. These pollutants include:

  • Excess fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides from agricultural lands and residential areas;
  • Oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production;
  • Sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding streambanks;
  • Salt from irrigation practices and acid drainage from abandoned mines;
  • Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes, and faulty septic systems;
  • Atmospheric deposition and hydromodification are also sources of Nonpoint source pollution.

States report that non-point source pollution is the leading remaining cause of water quality problems. The effects of non-point source pollutants on specific waters vary and may not always be fully assessed. Beach closures, destroyed habitat, unsafe drinking water, fish kills, and many other severe environmental and human health problems result from NPS pollutants. The pollutants also ruin the beauty of healthy, clean water habitats. Each year the United States spends millions of dollars to restore and protect the areas damaged by NPS pollutants. Also, NPS provides a greater chance for chemicals to mix and react together. This is knows as the synergistic effect. A combination of two or more contaminants can be even more harmful than the original pollutants.

Congress added Section 319 to the Clean Water Act in 1987, which directs states to assess their waters for runoff damages and create watershed-based programs to repair damages and prevent further pollution. Unfortunately, implementation of 319 has failed to stem the flow of polluted runoff. The majority of state programs are ineffective and lack focus. In addition, most state runoff programs are solely voluntary and lack any enforceable programs against bad actors. Lawsuits brought against states may bring some progress, by spurring cleanups that allocate responsibility for pollution load reductions among polluters within affected watersheds. However, what is really required to address runoff pollution in a comprehensive manner is a strengthened Clean Water Act.

Here are some of the suggestions we have to strengthen the Clean Water Act of the United States:

  • New state programs must address polluted runoff within reasonable timeframes.
  • Require that watersheds impaired or threatened by polluted runoff sources be restored within a decade.
  • Mandatory new source prevention program.
  • Require states to ensure that all significant new potential sources of polluted runoff do more to prevent polluted runoff before it occurs.
  • Give credit to landowners for participating in Farm Bill programs and similar state programs.
  • Provide credit towards polluted runoff prevention requirements for landowners who are participating in Farm Bill and other programs that prevent water quality impairment.
  • Protect polluted runoff-impaired groundwater.
  • Require states to identify watersheds in which groundwater is impaired by polluted runoff and take measures to protect this resource.
  • Require federal agency polluted runoff prevention.
  • Require all federal agencies to fully comply with new polluted runoff requirements.

Save your water!