What EPA is Doing to Reduce Nutrient Pollution
EPA is working diligently with its partners to combat nitrogen and phosphorus pollution (also called "nutrient" pollution) in U.S. water bodies through the following activities:
- Overseeing Regulatory Programs
- Reviewing and approving state water quality standards that contain numeric nutrient criteria under the Clean Water Act.
- Establishing National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for nitrate and nitrite.
- Including toxic cyanobacteria ("cyanotoxins") on the drinking water priority Contaminant Candidate List and proposing that they be monitored under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.
- Publishing effluent guidelines for industrial and municipal discharges that may contain nutrient-related limits.
- Working with states to identify water bodies impaired by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution and to develop Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) to restore the waters by limiting allowable nutrient inputs.
- Administering a wastewater permit program that establishes discharge limits and monitoring requirements necessary to protect water quality standards and the environment from point sources of nutrient-related pollutants –i.e., from municipal and industrial facilities, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and stormwater.
- Providing states, the regulated community, and the public with guidance on the regulatory requirements of nutrient management plans for regulatory requirements of nutrient management plans for CAFOs.
- Working to reduce nitrogen oxides air emissions through emissions standards, the NOx trading program and the acid rain program.
- Helping states reduce air pollution and attain clean air standards and manage interstate air pollution from power plants.
- Conducting Outreach and Engaging in Collaborations
- 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 states co-regulators, as well as industrial and environmental 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 coordinate activities to reduce the size, severity, and duration of the hypoxic zone, and ameliorate its effects.
- Working with state, federal partners, and national organizations – e.g., Source Water CollaborativeExit and the Animal Agriculture Discussion Group to reduce the impacts of nutrient pollution.
- Developing partnerships that support a shared understanding on how to successfully implement the Clean Water Act, support the development of affordable technologies to recycle nutrients, and produce educational materials on environmental managementExit of nutrient point sources.
- Partnering with pork and dairy producers, USDA, environmental groups and scientific experts to find affordable and innovative technologies to recycle nutrients, create valuable products and reduce water pollution by nutrients.
- Partnering with USGS and several regions to develop inventive ways to organize and analyze existing data on nutrient levels in water; while fostering the creativity, technical skills, and environmental awareness of high school students that participated on the Visualize Your Water Challenge.
- Providing Technical and Programmatic Support to States
- Providing states and tribes with 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 N-STEPS.
- Providing a data discovery and analysis tool help states and tribes prioritize waters for nutrient reductions strategies and nutrient criteria development.
- Providing information on health effects, analytical methods, and recommendations for public water systems on treatment technologies available to manage risks from harmful algal blooms and cyanotoxins.
- Publishing drinking water health advisories for the cyanobacterial toxins microcystins and cylindrospermopsin.
- 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.
- Continuing to support watershed-based permitting (WBP) and water quality trading (WQT) as mechanisms for implementing nutrient requirements.
- Provided technical assistance to over 35 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.
- Providing training and monitoring support to states/tribes in developing and refining water quality standards, reporting on water quality conditions, listing impaired waters, issuing and enforcing discharge permits, managing nonpoint sources, protecting good quality waters, setting priorities for water quality management, tracking changes in water quality over time, and evaluating the effectiveness of restoration and protection actions.
- 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 management plans, state regulatory and non-regulatory programs, watershed prioritization and planning, develop TMDL development, and nonpoint source monitoring.
- Providing funding for the construction and upgrading of municipal wastewater facilities and the implementation of nonpoint source pollution control and estuary protection projects.
- Providing opportunities for partnerships to control the impacts of nutrient pollution through the clean water state revolving fund (CWSRF) and the drinking water state revolving fund (DWSRF).
- Conducting Research and Development
- Supporting a national research program that studies the pathways and effects of nutrients on ecosystems and focuses in finding innovative and optimal solutions to reduce nutrient pollution.
- Conducting a national study on nutrient removal – i.e., how to control nitrogen, 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 between EPA, states, and tribes designed to assess the quality of the nation's coastal waters, lakes and reservoirs, rivers and streams, and wetlands using a statistical survey design. The NARS provide critical, groundbreaking, and nationally-consistent data on the nation's waters.
- Helping to manage the Nutrient Sensor ChallengeExit which allowed teams from all over the world to participate in developing affordable dissolved nitrate and/or phosphate sensors. Phase 2 is expected to be completed in 2016 with the selected teams conducting verification testing.
EPA Efforts in the Regions
Click on the map to learn more about efforts to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in your Region.
EPA Numeric Nutrient Criteria Strategy
In 1998, EPA outlined a Numeric Nutrient Strategy to describe the approach that EPA would follow to develop nutrient information and work with the states and tribes to adopt numeric nutrient criteria.
In 2001, EPA developed a memo that provided additional guidance to states and authorized tribes for developing nutrient criteria plans, the role of the plans, flexibility available, and EPA’s expectations for the time frame to develop a plan and adopt nutrient criteria into water quality standards. Then, in 2007, EPA developed a memo to provide a national update on the development of numeric nutrient water quality standards and describe EPA’s commitment to accelerating the pace of progress.
In 2008, EPA published "State Adoption of Numeric Nutrient Standards 1998–2008". This document was the first national report on progress made by the states in adopting numeric nutrient water quality standards (WQS). EPA recognized the urgency of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution by forming the EPA Nutrient Innovations Task Group (NITG) to focus on reducing nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in U.S. waters. In 2009, the NITG published a report that focused on drawing attention to the need for nutrient reduction strategies.
- An Urgent Call to Action: Report of the State-EPA Nutrient Innovations Task Group
- Nutrient Innovations Task Group, Report Fact Sheet
In 2011, EPA published a memorandum reaffirming its commitment to partnering with states and stakeholders to address nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. This memorandum presents a framework that states can use to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution while developing numeric criteria. The framework provides for: prioritizing watersheds on a statewide basis for nitrogen and phosphorus loading reductions, ensuring effectiveness of point sources permits, integrating innovative approaches onto agricultural practices, identifying and using government tools to assure reductions in stormwater and septic systems, verifying that load reductions are in place and the measures implemented are effective, and developing a plan for adoption of numeric nutrient criteria.
- March 2011 EPA Memo: Working in Partnership with States to Address Phosphorus and Nitrogen Pollution through Use of a Framework for State Nutrient Reductions
In 2013, EPA developed an interactive website to show state progress on developing numeric nutrient criteria. The site features maps and tables showing development of nitrogen and phosphorus criteria from 1998 projected through 2016. It also includes each state's existing numeric criteria and development plans. EPA will update this website with new information as it becomes available.