<title>Nonpoint Pointers: Nonpoint Source Pollution: The Nation's Largest Water Quality Problem, Pointer No. 1</title>
<type>single page tiff</type>
<keyword>nps water pollution nonpoint epa source quality nfs clean pollutants ground sources lakes picks rivers agriculture land coastal areas runoff</keyword>
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~ "EPA-841-E-96-004A , . ;'
iy|arch1996, . ".- ' -'„-,
Understanding and managing nonpoint source pollution in your community __
Nation's Largest c
Water Quality Problem
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Why is there still water that'^s too dirty for swimrnihg, fishing, or drink-
ing? Why are native species of plants and animals disappearing from many
rivers, lakes, and coastal waters? /"./ v - '",. '."•":
'- , The United States hasmade^trgmendous-advances in the past 25 years to,
_ clean upthe .aquatic environment by controlling poUutionirom industries
^nd sewage treatment plants. Unfortunately,_,we did not do enough to
control pollution from diffuse, or nonpoint, sources. Today, nonpoint source
" (]^FS) pollution remains- the Nation's largest source of wafer quality prob-
lems. It's the main reas.on that approximately 40 percent-of surveyed rivers,
lakes, and estuaries arefiot clean enough to-meet basic uses such as fishing
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^ , NFS pollution occurs when rainfall, snowmelt, or irrigation rims over
land or through the ground,,picks up pollutants, and,deposits them into
"^~7 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 readies a fiver,
^_1 ground water, or the ocean. Any
pollutant it picks up on its journey
can become part of the NFS
problem.. NFS pollution also
includes adverse changes to the— -
vegetatiori/shape, and flow of -
streams and~other aquatic systern's7"
— NFS pollution is Widespread
- , ::•.,-..( ' • ••- -- -/ ,^_ • •-•';,.-' becausg.it can occur any .time,.
activities disturb the land or wafer_Agriculture/ forestry, grazing, septic -
^systems,, recreational boating, urban runoff, cohstruction, physical changes
; to~stream channels, and habitat degradation are potential sources of NPS ~"
- pollution. Careless or uninformed household management also contributes
to NFS pollution problems. ,-! '-''"' ~~ -:". •_ ..
-The latest National Water Quality Inventory indicates that agriculture
-'is the,jl,eadving contributor to water quality impairments, degrading 60 i
percent of the impaired river-miles and half ojFjthelmpaired lake acreage
surveyed by statesT territories, and tribes. Runoff from urban areas is the
, largest source of water quality impairments to surveyed estuaries (areas
near the coast where sea water mixes with freshwater). •"
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J'he most cornmon^NPS.pollu-
tants"are, soils jind nutrients
that wash intp. water bodies
from agricultural land,
-'construction site's^and.other .._
areas of disturbance r
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Three Leading Sources of
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Source: National Water Quality Inventory, 19&21
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.NPS pollution occurs when
water runs over land or through
the ground, picks up pollutants,
and deposits them in surface
waters^or introduces them into
ground; water. .
• Additional fact sheets in the
Nonpoint Pointers series
• EPA Journal, Vol. 17, No. 5,
Nov/Dec 1991, (EPA-22K-
• Managing Nonpoint Source
Pollution: Final Report to
Congress on Section 319 of
the Clean Water Act (EPA-
» NPS News-Notes (EPA-841 -
• Polluted (EPA-841-F-94-
• The Quality of Our Nation's
Water: 1994 (EPA-841-S-95-
* The Watershed Protection
To order any of the above EPA
documents call or fax the
National Center for Environmen-
tal Publications and Information.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
U.S. Environmental Protection
Nonpoint Source Control Branch
Washington DC 20460
at a water
Schematic of a Watershed
Themost common NPS pollutants are sediment and nutrients. These
wash into water bodies from agricultural land, small and medium-sized
animal feeding operations, construction sites/and other areas of distur-
bance. Other common NPS pollutants include pesticides, pathogens (bacte-
ria and viruses), salts, oil, grease, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals. Beach
closures, destroyed habitat, unsafe drinking water, fish kills, and many
other severe environmental and human health problems result from NPS
pollutants. They also spoil the beauty of healthy, clean water habitats. Each
year the United States spends millions of dollars'"to_restpre and protect the
areas damaged by NPS'pollutants. .,--,..
During the last 10 years, our country has made significant headway in
addressing NPS pollution. At the federal level, the Nonpoint Source Man-
agement Program was established by the 1987 Clean Water Act Amend-
ments, and the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Program was established by the
1990 Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments. Other recent federal
programs, as well as state, territorial, tribal and local programs also tackle
In addition, public and private groups have developed and used pollu-
tion prevention and reduction initiatives and NPS pollution controls, known
as management measures, to clean up our water efficiently. Water quality
monitoring and environmental education supported by government agen-
cies, tribes, industry, volunteer groups," and schools have provided informa-
tion about NPS pollution and have helped to determine the effectiveness of
approach has also helped communities. It looks not
.y buralscTtEe~ent!r~ei afeatEat drains into it"This allows
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^ust as important, more citizens are practicing water conservation
^parhapating'in streamwaT^"EeSi cleanups, and other environmental
ties sponsored 6y community-b~ased organizations. In doing so,
-" --Mress^e Nftipn^argest water quality problem, and ensure that
of ourrivers^ lakes, ahcf coastafwaters Become safe for swim-
drinking, and aquatic life.