Nonpoint Source Pollution

Nonpoint source pollution comes from rain or melting snow moving over the ground. Learn what you can do to help prevent it.

MassDEP, through the Nonpoint Source Management Section in the Watershed Planning Program, uses the federal Clean Water Act to develop and implement the Massachusetts Nonpoint Source Management Program Plan, an integrated strategy for preventing, controlling, and reducing nonpoint source pollution in the Commonwealth.

Table of Contents

About nonpoint source pollution

Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution comes from rainfall or melting snow moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants and eventually deposits them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground waters. These pollutants may come from:

  • Fertilizers and herbicides
  • Oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from urban runoff
  • Construction sediment
  • Streambank erosion
  • Irrigation runoff
  • Bacteria and nutrients from animal wastes
  • Atmospheric deposition, commonly called "acid rain".

Additional Resources

Tools for managing nonpoint source pollution

  • MassDEP has developed a statewide Watershed-Based Plan to organize information about our state's waters and present it in a format that will promote the development of beneficial projects. 
  • The Massachusetts Clean Water Toolkit is an interactive guide for the prevention and control of NPS pollution. 
  • Under Section 319 of the federal Clean Water Act, MassDEP administers a grant program to fund projects that help prevent and control NPS pollution. 
  • INSPIRE (Ideas for Nonpoint Source Projects: Information, Resources, and Examples) is an online GIS-based NPS capacity building tool developed by the NPS Management Section in the Watershed Planning Program to view CWA sections 604(b) and 319 grant projects and explore ideas for new NPS management projects.

Additional Resources

Education in pollution prevention

MassDEP offers guides providing suggestions for what citizens can do to help prevent nonpoint source pollution. 

Nonpoint Source (NPS) Management Forum

The NPS Management Section in the Watershed Planning Program (WPP) at MassDEP hosts an annual NPS Management Forum. The virtual forum provides an overview of both WPP and the NPS Management Section, which develops and implements the Massachusetts NPS Management Program Plan. WPP staff provide information on the three grant programs administered by WPP: two NPS grants (Clean Water Act Section 604(b) Water Quality Management Planning grant and Section 319 Nonpoint Source Competitive grant) and a Water Quality Monitoring grant. Each year, one or more NPS grant program recipients share their experiences conducting their 604(b) or 319 grant projects. The forum closes with a review of tools and resources available to help NPS practitioners develop successful grant proposals and manage NPS pollution.  

The 2023 NPS Management Forum was held on September 20th.  A video recording of the NPS Management Section overview can be found here.

Additional Resources

Regulations & Guidance


314 CMR 2.00: Permit Procedures for Wastewater Discharge, Sewer Permits, and Reclaimed Water
Procedures for applying for surface water and groundwater discharge permits, sewer permits, and reclaimed-water-use permits.

314 CMR 4.00: Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards
Identifying and ensuring minimum standards for surface water quality in Massachusetts, in accordance with the Federal Clean Water Act.

314 CMR 9.00: Water Quality Certification
Ensuring that dredging operations and material comply with the requirements of the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards and the federal Clean Water Act.


Complete Erosion and Sedimentation Control Guidelines: a Guide for Planners, Designers, and Municipal Officials
Best management practices for controlling erosion and sediment buildup.

Emergency Repairs to Structures, Roads, and Facilities Located in Wetland Resource Areas or Buffer Zones, and Waterways
Guidance for homeowners and local officials on authorizing emergency work in the event of a sudden or unforeseen emergency.

The Massachusetts Stormwater Handbook
This handbook describes how to follow the regulations governing stormwater management.

Snow Disposal Guidance
MassDEP guidelines for government agencies and private businesses to use in selecting, preparing, and maintaining snow disposal sites.

Unpaved Roads BMP Manual
Maintaining unpaved roads to prevent stormwater runoff and other water-quality problems.

Water Resource Management Planning Guidance Document
This guidance is intended to explain the types of water management planning reports towns and communities can use when approaching their particular wastewater, drinking water, and stormwater issues. 

Contact   for Nonpoint Source Pollution

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