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 a series of activities found under the following seven categories.
- Promoting Collaborative Approaches
- Overseeing Regulatory Programs
- Conducting Outreach
- Developing Partnerships
- Providing Technical and Programmatic Support to States
- Financing Nutrient Reduction Activities
- Conducting Research and Development
Promoting Collaborative Approaches
- Collaborating with stakeholders by providing guiding principles on the use of water quality trading and other market-based approaches.
- Providing tools and other resources (e.g. water quality trading and offsets) to stakeholders as options to comply with regulatory requirements of the Clean Water Act.
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 monitoring 10 cyanotoxins as part of the fourth 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 or protect waters.
- 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.
- 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.
- Continuing to support watershed-based permitting (WBP) and water quality trading (WQT) as mechanisms for implementing nutrient requirements.
- Holding an annual SepticSmart Week with outreach activities to encourage homeowners and communities to care for and maintain their septic systems.
- Seeking input on development of a potential program called NutrientSmart (NSmart) that will recognize wastewater treatment plant operators who are making progress to reduce nutrient discharges.
- 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 state, federal partners, and national organizations – e.g., Source Water Collaborative 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 management 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 from nutrients and reduce water pollution by nutrients.
- Partnering with USGS 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.
- Leading the federal efforts to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay as required by Executive Order 13508. EPA defined the required tools and actions to reduce nutrient pollution as well as the changes in regulations, policy, and programs needed for their implementation.
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 information on cyanotoxin health effects and analytical methods and developing tools and recommendations for public water systems on treating, monitoring and communicating the risks of harmful algal blooms and cyanotoxins in their drinking water systems.
- Publishing drinking water health advisories for the cyanobacterial toxins microcystins and cylindrospermopsin.
- Conducting workshops in collaboration with states, tribal and local partners across the country focused on developing local and regional strategies for preventing and managing the risks of harmful algal blooms in recreational and drinking water.
- 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.
- 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, developing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), issuing and enforcing discharge permits, managing nonpoint sources, protecting high quality waters, setting priorities for water quality management, and tracking changes in water quality over time.
- Providing technical support to Executive order 13508, EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and published Guidance for Federal Land Management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that is transferable to states, local governments, conservation districts, watershed organizations, developers, farmers, and citizens in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
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 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 excess nutrients, including harmful algal blooms, on ecosystems and focuses in finding innovative and optimal solutions to reduce nutrient pollution.
- Conducting a national study on excess 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 Challenge 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.