EPA’s Efforts to Reduce Nutrient Pollution
EPA continues to work diligently to combat nitrogen and phosphorus pollution ("nutrient" pollution) in U.S. water bodies through a series of activities.
- Partnering and Collaborating with Stakeholders
- Providing Technical and Programmatic Support to States, Tribes, and Territories
- Overseeing Regulatory Programs
- Financing Nutrient Reduction Activities
- Conducting Research and Development
- Conducting Outreach
Partnering and Collaborating with Stakeholders
- Co-leading the Mississippi River/Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force along with five other federal agencies, 12 states and the National Tribal Water Council to understand the causes and effects of eutrophication in the Northern Gulf of Mexico; and coordinating activities to reduce the size, severity, and duration of the hypoxic zone, and ameliorate its effects.
- Working with the Water Research Foundation on advancing nutrient management efforts to accelerate progress on reducing excess nutrients in the nation's waterways.
- Partnering with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to encourage increased engagement and a reinvigoration of state, tribal, and federal efforts to reduce excess nutrients in waterways, with a focus on market-based and other collaborative approaches.
- Supporting nutrient reduction through Clean Water Act programs where partners are in the lead. Case studies:
- Collaborating with USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and state water quality agencies to reduce nonpoint sources of nutrients, sediment, and pathogens related to agriculture in small high-priority watersheds through the National Water Quality Initiative.
- Working with national organizations such as the Source Water Collaborative and the Animal Agriculture Discussion Group to reduce the impacts of nutrient pollution.
Providing Technical and Programmatic Support to States, Tribes, and Territories
- Providing technical guidance and resources to help them develop water quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorus as part of their water quality standards regulations for surface waters, including direct technical assistance through the N-STEPS program.
- Providing information on cyanobacterial toxins (cyanotoxin) health effects, health advisories, and analytical methods as well as tools and recommendations for public water systems on treating, monitoring, and communicating the risks of harmful algal blooms (HABs) and cyanotoxins in their drinking water systems.
- Conducting workshops in collaboration with state, tribal, and local partners across the country focused on developing local and regional strategies for preventing and managing the risks of HABs in recreational and drinking waters.
- Providing access to the latest watershed and water quality models supporting the development of nutrient and nutrient-related TMDLs.
- Training state permit writers to implement nutrient requirements in NPDES permits.
- Providing technical assistance to dozens of communities implementing green infrastructure.
- Providing technical assistance for the nonpoint source sector under Clean Water Act section 319 in areas of nutrient management such as agricultural management practices, management of onsite disposal systems and urban/suburban green infrastructure practices.
Overseeing Regulatory Programs
- Reviewing and approving state water quality standards that contain numeric nutrient criteria under the Clean Water Act.
- Establishing drinking water standards for nitrate and nitrite.
- Working with states to identify water bodies impaired by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution to develop Total maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) to restore or protect waters.
- Publishing effluent guidelines and pretreatment standards for industrial discharges that may contain nutrient-related technology-based limits.
- Administering a wastewater permit program that establishes discharge limits and monitoring requirements necessary to water bodies from point sources of nutrient-related pollutants (i.e., from municipal and industrial facilities, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and stormwater).
- Including cyanotoxins on the drinking water priority Contaminant Candidate List and monitoring 10 cyanotoxins as part of the fourth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.
- Working to reduce nitrogen oxide air emissions that can contribute to nutrient water pollution.
Financing Nutrient Reduction Activities
- Awarding grants to states for operating nonpoint source management programs (Clean Water Act section 319 program). The activities supported by these programs may include implementation of state nonpoint source (NPS) management plans, watershed prioritization and planning, TMDL development, and nonpoint source water quality monitoring.
- Providing opportunities for partnerships to reduce nutrient pollution through the clean water state revolving fund (CWSRF) and the drinking water state revolving fund (DWSRF). Publishing a CWSRF Best Practices Guide for Financing Nonpoint Source Solutions to help states address priority NPS management program plan needs and learn from case studies of successful and innovative partnerships underway across the country.
- Providing additional guidance on the use of market-based programs to reduce water pollution at lower overall cost and incentivize implementation of technologies and land use practices that reduce nonpoint pollution in our nation’s waters.
- Providing information on the use innovative financing mechanisms to promote integrated point and nonpoint pollutant reduction strategies.
EPA Financing Available to Support Market-Based Water Quality Improvement Programs Memo (pdf)
- EPA Water Finance Support to Nutrient Credit Markets (pdf)
- Section 319 and Nutrient Credits (pdf)
- Materials presented by the Electric Power Research Institute at the Fall 2020 Hypoxia Task Force meeting: Water Quality Trading to Meet Local and Regional Goals (pdf)
- EPA Financing Available to Support Market-Based Water Quality Improvement Programs Memo (pdf)
Conducting Research and Development
- Supporting a national research program that studies the pathways and effects of nutrient pollution, including HABs, on ecosystems and focuses in finding innovative and optimal solutions for nutrient pollution.
- Conducting a national study on excess nutrient removal – i.e., how to control nitrogen and phosphorus, develop and implement water treatment technologies -- at municipal wastewater plants (also called water resource recovery facilities).
- Conducting National Aquatic Resource Surveys (NARS), a collaborative program involving EPA, states, and tribes that is designed to assess the quality of the nation's coastal waters, lakes and reservoirs, rivers and streams, and wetlands using a statistical survey design. NARS collects data on nitrogen, phosphorus, and chlorophyll as part of their suite of chemical and biological indicators and/or stressors impacting water quality at a national scale.
- Developing communication and outreach materials that create public awareness of the causes, effects, and potential solutions to nutrient pollution.
- Communicating the latest scientific information regarding nutrient water quality criteria development and implementation with state co-regulators, as well as industrial and environmental stakeholders.
- Supporting watershed-based permitting and water quality trading as mechanisms for implementing nutrient requirements.
- Hosting SepticSmart Week annually with outreach activities to encourage homeowners and communities to care for and maintain their septic systems.
- Collaborating with the Water Environment Federation (WEF) on the NutrientSmart (NSmart) program to (1) encourage the adoption of enhanced nutrient management practices by water utilities, (2) distribute information on tools and methods for reducing nutrient loadings in waterways, and (3) recognize water utilities that are leaders and innovators in this area.