Threats to Clean Water – Nonpoint Source Pollution
Whether it comes from lakes, streams, rivers, or the ground – clean, abundant water is one of our state’s greatest treasures. But, threats to clean water exist, and many of our lakes, rivers and streams have landed on Missouri’s 303(d) list of impaired waters.
Threats to our waters come from either point or nonpoint sources of pollution. Of the two, nonpoint source causes the majority of water quality impairments in the state and nation.
Point source pollution comes from a single point – like a pipe, for example, when an industrial facility or wastewater treatment plant discharges wastewater into a receiving water body. Thanks to the federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1972, all such facilities are now required to be permitted and their discharge must be treated so that it does not impair receiving waters.
Nonpoint source pollution (NPS), on the other hand, is untreated pollution that generally cannot be traced back to a single source – making it much more difficult to identify and address.
NPS accounts for most of the pollution that enters our ponds, lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands and groundwater. It enters waterways during and after rainfall, snowmelt and irrigation events, when water that hasn’t soaked into the soil starts to run across the landscape. This runoff picks up pollutants on the landscape and transports them into surface and ground waters. These pollutants, such as bacteria, animal waste products, fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, oil and grease, chemical contaminants and sediment, can impair a receiving water's designated uses. Polluted runoff can negatively impact drinking water supplies, recreational uses, wildlife and aquatic habitat, and can cause excessive algal growth (harmful algal blooms) and odors, and devalue property. Nonpoint source pollution is usually traced to multiple sources within a watershed, such as urban stormwater runoff, agricultural practices, construction activities, or ineffective septic systems. Atmospheric deposition and hydrologic modification are also sources of nonpoint source pollution. All land use practices – whether urban, suburban, or rural – have the potential to impact water quality through NPS.
Missouri's Nonpoint Source Management Program and Section 319 NPS Grants
The good news is that NPS pollution can be reduced by becoming aware of how land use can impact the quality of our waters – and by choosing land management practices with the elimination of NPS in mind. To that end, the U.S. Congress amended the Clean Water Act in 1987, enacting Section 319 to establish a non-regulatory national program to control NPS pollution. Under Section 319, each state has identified its NPS problems and has adopted a nonpoint source management program to control NPS pollution. Congress annually appropriates grant funds to the states under Section 319(h), passed through by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to help them implement those non-regulatory management programs.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources Nonpoint Source Management Program provides Section 319 subgrants to eligible entities for projects to help restore and protect Missouri waters that have been impaired or threatened by NPS pollution. Missouri’s grant funds, passed through from EPA Region 7, can be used to address NPS pollution through a variety of activities that focus on improving water quality, such as planning, implementation of best management practices (BMPs), water quality monitoring, and information and outreach. Section 319 grant funds must be used to address NPS issues described in Missouri’s Nonpoint Source Management Plan. Eligible Section 319 project sponsors include state and local government agencies, educational institutions, and nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) status.