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For additional information beyond this 1994 CZM coastal brief, see Coastal Water Quality Publications (particularly the section on Stormwater and Low Impact Development/Smart Growth).
Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution occurs when contaminants are picked up by rain water and snow melt and carried over land, in groundwater, or through drainage systems to the nearest water body. NPS pollution is currently the number one pollution problem in U.S. coastal waters. Recognizing the seriousness of this problem, Congress added the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program to the Reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act in 1990. This legislation gives states the opportunity to work with federal agencies and already existing programs to develop and implement enforceable measures to restore and protect coastal waters from NPS pollution. The legislation also gives states the flexibility to design measures that are both environmentally and economically sound. The Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and the Department of Environmental Protection, in cooperation with a variety of other state agencies, are responsible for developing the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program for the Commonwealth.
It all adds up! Everything people do that releases contaminants to the air, soil, or water has the potential to become nonpoint source (NPS) pollution. When each of these individual actions is taken together, the impacts on coastal waters are staggering. Many national studies point to NPS pollution as the largest single factor contributing to coastal water pollution.
NPS pollution occurs when rain water and snow melt run over farm fields, city streets, timberland, lawns, and other surfaces. Contaminants, such as soil sediments, nutrients from fertilizers and sewage, and chemicals from pesticide use and other sources, are picked up as the water runs over the ground and through the soil. The contaminated rain water and snow melt ultimately flow directly into a surface water body (such as the ocean, a river, or a lake), or they seep into groundwater or enter a drainage system, which eventually carries the contaminants to a surface water body.
Unlike point source pollution from industrial pipe discharges and other direct sources, the sources of NPS pollution are extremely diverse and widespread. Virtually every activity that adds something to the environment or takes something away can cause NPS pollution. For example, adding fertilizers and pesticides to a field can cause NPS pollution when rain water washes excess nutrients and chemicals into surrounding water bodies. In addition, removing trees from a forested area can cause NPS pollution by exposing soil, which can then be more easily washed into surrounding water bodies when it rains. Even the most common everyday actions, such as cleaning the house, driving to work, and walking the dog, can contribute to NPS pollution. Although each one of these activities alone has only a small impact, the combined impacts of the activities of millions of people add up to water pollution problems.
In the past, the NPS pollution that resulted from human activities and natural processes (such as erosion and plant and animal decay) was not significant enough to impair the ability of aquatic ecosystems to handle these contaminants. As human activities have increased, however, the quantity and diversity of NPS pollutants entering water bodies have also increased. Today, in many areas, the levels of NPS pollution have adversely affected the health and productivity of coastal ecosystems. In addition, NPS pollution can prevent these water bodies from meeting water quality standards, which means that people cannot use the water for certain purposes, such as drinking, shellfishing, or swimming. Continued NPS pollution can also alter the quality of wildlife habitats, which can reduce plant and animal populations.
Clearly, NPS pollution affects coastal waters when contaminated rain water and snow melt run directly into the ocean or into other coastal waters, such as estuaries and salt marshes. Even rain and snow that fall many miles inland, however, can impact coastal waters by carrying NPS pollutants to rivers that ultimately run to the sea. Consequently, all activities in coastal watersheds (the geographic area from which water drains into coastal waterbodies) can cause coastal NPS pollution problems.
Coastal waters, therefore, are affected by the activities conducted within a very large land area. In Massachusetts, for example, the coastal watershed includes just over half of the state. In addition, the coastal regions of the United States are the most heavily populated areas of the country, which further heightens the problem of coastal NPS pollution.
Contaminants released into coastal waters because of NPS pollution cause many problems. For example, beaches must be closed to swimming when bacteria reaches certain levels in the water. Nonpoint sources of bacteria include boaters, farm animals, failed septic systems, and stormwater runoff. In addition, when pesticides and other chemicals get into the marine environment, they reduce the productivity of coastal habitats, such as estuaries. Because estuaries serve as the breeding grounds for fish and other wildlife, commercial fisheries are affected.
In Massachusetts, one of the most costly results of coastal NPS pollution is shellfish bed closings. Over the past fifteen years, shellfish bed closings have increased dramatically and many of these closings appear to be the direct result of NPS pollution from septic systems and from domestic and farm animals. Because they are filter feeders, shellfish are very sensitive to water pollution. As they feed, they filter contaminants and bacteria out of the water and often store these substances in their body tissue. Consequently, the contamination of shellfish with bacteria from human and animal wastes is a serious health threat. Once bacterial levels in coastal waters reach certain levels, the shellfish beds must be closed, preventing people from harvesting these resources.
In 1990, Congress added the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program to the Reauthorization of the Coastal Zone Management Act. This legislation focuses on reducing the causes of NPS pollution and improving coastal water quality. Under the legislation, states with federally approved coastal zone management programs (such as Massachusetts) are given the opportunity to develop their own Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs. States are also given the flexibility to develop comprehensive strategies that balance environmental and economic goals within the state. The Massachusetts Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program can therefore give practical solutions for addressing coastal environmental issues that make sense from both the environmental and economic perspectives.
Unlike other federal legislation, the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program gives states the authority and the responsibility to include enforcement provisions for many of the NPS pollution control strategies they develop. In addition, the states will do more than develop a comprehensive Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program -- they will ensure that the program and its enforceable provisions are implemented effectively.
In Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office (CZM) and the Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) are responsible for developing and implementing a Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program. CZM is taking the lead in the effort to develop the program plan, with strong support and cooperation from MassDEP. In addition, CZM and MassDEP are working with other state agencies and a wide range of environmental and industry groups to develop a comprehensive program.
To establish a formal foundation for cooperation, CZM and MassDEP signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in January, 1994. In the MOU, CZM agreed to cooperate with MassDEP throughout the development of the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program and to allow MassDEP to review the components of the program. In turn, MassDEP agreed to integrate the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program into its statewide nonpoint source efforts.
CZM's focus during the program development process is to protect coastal resources from NPS pollution while taking into consideration the needs of those who will be regulated by the program. CZM is emphasizing consensus building and flexibility throughout the development of NPS pollution control strategies.
State Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs will be approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency that administers the Coastal Zone Management Act, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the federal agency that administers a separate nonpoint source program under the Clean Water Act. The cooperation between these two federal agencies and state agencies will allow for more effective coordination of environmental programs and will ultimately lead to a more comprehensive approach to controlling NPS pollution.
To help states develop sound and effective programs, NOAA and EPA developed a guidance document for states entitled, Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters. States are using this document as the basis for developing their Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs.
All state Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs will include:
The management measures define the goals that state Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs will achieve. Two basic strategies define the plan. The first strategy is to develop and improve land use practices in areas that drain into coastal waters. The relationship between land use practices and NPS pollution has been clearly established. For example, coastal development converts field and forest land to roads, parking lots, buildings, and other surfaces that do not readily absorb water. Instead, rain water and snow melt run over these surfaces and carry contaminants to coastal waters. Implementing a land use plan that limits development around surface water bodies can help minimize NPS pollution problems.
The second strategy is to implement Best Management Practices (BMPs), which are structural and nonstructural solutions aimed at reducing the input of particular NPS contaminants into surface waters. An example of a structural BMP is an infiltration basin (a structure that is built to hold runoff and filter contaminants from that runoff before the water is absorbed into the ground). Nonstructural BMPs include buffer strips (areas of natural vegetation) that are left as protection between streams or other surface water bodies and farmlands or construction sites.
Unlike other federal NPS programs, the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program is technology based rather than water-quality based. This means that states can implement strategies that prevent pollution, rather than waiting until widespread damage occurs and then implementing strategies to try to correct pollution problems. Under the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, therefore, control strategies that have been proven to be effective in reducing NPS pollution will be developed for all the major sources known to contribute to NPS pollution problems.
The technology-based approach is a more direct approach for NPS pollution problems than the water-quality based approach. Because nonpoint sources of pollution are so diverse, and each individual source may contribute only a small quantity of contaminants to coastal waters, identifying the exact sources of NPS pollution is very expensive and time consuming. In addition, the technology-based approach ensures that all the known, major sources of NPS pollution do their part to help solve the problem.
In addition to these management measures, state plans will include the following components:
In order to comprehensively deal with NPS pollution problems, six general categories will be addressed in state Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs. These categories are:
In order to develop a comprehensive and effective Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, environmental and regulatory experts, representatives of the activities identified as major sources of NPS pollution, industry groups, non-government organizations, homeowners, and the public should be brought together to work out effective solutions. In Massachusetts, CZM and DEP are working hard to bring these groups together throughout the planning process. Through this cooperation, CZM plans to develop a program that protects coastal waters without unnecessarily burdening those that are affected by the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program requirements.
In the early stages of program development, CZM determined that all the major categories of NPS pollution identified in the federal guidance document existed in Massachusetts. Again, these categories are:
CZM concluded that the state's Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program should include measures to address NPS pollution problems from each of these sources. CZM began its efforts by analyzing existing state programs and bringing the appropriate state agencies, local officials, environmental groups, and industry groups, into the planning process.
One of the major urban sources of NPS pollution in Massachusetts is failing septic systems. DEP, in cooperation with other state agencies including CZM, is in the process of revising Title 5 of the state sanitary code. These regulations govern the installation and maintenance of septic systems throughout the Commonwealth. CZM is working with DEP to ensure that the requirements of the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program will be met by Title 5.
Throughout the revisions of Title 5, DEP has worked with environmental groups, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors, the Massachusetts Homebuilders Association, and the Massachusetts Association of Boards of Health. The purpose of including these groups in the decision-making process is to gain consensus as to the best ways to meet environmental standards. In addition, it brings local governments into the process, which will allow them to better implement regulatory requirements.
Another urban source of NPS pollution is development and construction. CZM has determined that erosion and sediment controls will be needed to minimize the impact of new construction on coastal resources. CZM is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA's) Soil Conservation Service (SCS) to develop effective control measures. In addition, CZM will organize a workgroup of environmentalists, homeowners, realtors, and developers, which will review any new erosion and sediment control measures for the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program.
Roads, highways, and bridges are another urban source of NPS pollution. CZM is working with the Massachusetts Highway Department, who will develop environmental specifications to go along with the structural design specifications they have in place for all state-funded road work. These environmental specifications will include management practices, such as the use of buffer strips and drainage systems that reduce runoff and NPS pollution. Contractors who build, improve, or repair state roads, highways, and bridges will therefore be required to meet these environmental specifications. Local highway departments will also be given technical assistance so that they can adopt similar specifications.
Stormwater runoff carries NPS pollution from urban sources, as well as from the other types of sources addressed in Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs. DEP has initiated a Stormwater Task Force to deal with the pollution problems caused by stormwater runoff. This internal task force has produced a report outlining strategies that should be used to control stormwater runoff problems. DEP has presented this report to representatives from environmental and industry groups and is looking for their input to develop comprehensive and workable approaches for stormwater management.
Finally, Massachusetts agencies are aggressively coordinating their efforts to develop watershed plans. The purpose of watershed planning is to use local zoning and planning tools to institute land use patterns that reduce environmental problems, such as NPS pollution. The Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) and MassDEP are both in the process of developing watershed planning approaches. CZM will work with these agencies, as well as with local governments, to help implement watershed plans to minimize NPS pollution.
Marinas and boats generate NPS pollution when they are improperly sited, designed, or operated. CZM determined that the state's Chapter 91 regulations, which govern activities within Massachusetts waterways, can address the primary causes of NPS pollution from boats and marinas. To help reduce the sources of NPS pollution, therefore, CZM has decided to focus its efforts on developing guidance documents that help marinas and harbormasters to implement the Chapter 91 requirements and control NPS pollution. CZM will also work to provide marinas and harbormasters with the technical assistance they need to meet NPS requirements.
Unlike many other states, agriculture in Massachusetts is dominated by small, family-owned farms. Consequently, it is vital that any attempt to reduce agricultural NPS problems take into account the economic realities faced by small farmers. With this in mind, CZM is working with the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA) to develop an NPS pollution control strategy that will not contribute to economic hardship for Massachusetts farmers. In addition, CZM has organized a workgroup made up of representatives from the Farm Bureau, trade associations for cranberry growers and nurseries, and individual farmers, to review proposed agricultural management measures.
In order to develop the best strategies for reducing NPS pollution from agricultural sources, CZM is also working with SCS and the University of Massachusetts Cooperative Extension Service. These groups have the technical expertise and knowledge to develop the most effective solutions.
The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is in the process of updating regulations for timber cutting. CZM determined that the best way to address potential forestry-related NPS pollution is to work with DEM as they revise these regulations. Throughout the revision process, DEM will work with DEP, the Metropolitan District Commission, the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions, the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Professionals, Massachusetts Audubon, and the University of Massachusetts Forestry Extension, as well as with the timber cutting and sawmill interests. DEM also plans to hold public hearings on the revised regulations and will use input from these hearings to refine the regulations as necessary to protect the environment, industry, and the public.
Once the DEM regulatory revisions are completed, DEM and DEP will hold workshops for foresters to provide them with the technical assistance they will need to meet NPS controls. In addition, DEM and DEP will hold workshops for local officials to help them implement NPS pollution controls for timber cutting within their jurisdiction. To assist with the implementation of the forestry regulations, CZM will help DEM to develop a Best Management Practices Manual. This manual will provide technical guidance for foresters so that they can effectively comply with regulations and reduce NPS pollution.
The Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Program and the Chapter 91 Waterways Program go a long way toward preventing and controlling NPS pollution impacts from channelization (dredging, flood control, and drainage improvements) and dam building. In addition, DEP's Office of Watershed Management's basin planning approach will help to determine where surface water quality is being adversely affected by hydromodification. Where problems are detected, DEP will work with other agencies and local officials to implement practices to restore water quality, including NPS pollution controls. CZM will continue to work with DEP through these initiatives, as well as with other agencies, to coordinate strategies that address the NPS pollution impacts from hydromodification.
Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs should include ways to protect wetlands from contamination and development, as well as programs to promote restoration of degraded wetlands and the construction of artificial wetlands. CZM determined that the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Program and Wetlands Restoration and Banking Program are very effective mechanisms for protecting and restoring wetlands. In fact, the Wetlands Protection Program is probably the most extensive mechanism available to control NPS pollution because it has strong components aimed at protecting all surface water bodies.
Additional emphasis on the creation of artificial wetlands for water treatment in Massachusetts would be valuable, however. The federal guidance indicates that states should encourage the development of manmade wetlands that will retain and assimilate some pollutants before they enter coastal water bodies. To accomplish this goal, CZM will work with DEP to develop general guidance for artificial wetlands construction as part of Massachusetts Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program. In addition, CZM will develop guidance documents for local officials to help them pursue artificial wetlands construction.
Finally, CZM and DEP will work with the Massachusetts Association of Conservation Commissions to help local governments implement wetlands protection measures, as well as to pursue the restoration of degraded wetlands and the construction of artificial wetlands.
CZM will bring all of these efforts together into a draft plan for the Massachusetts Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program. Once the draft is completed, CZM will expand its public outreach campaign to educate local governments, environmental groups, industry groups, and the public about the components of the draft plan. CZM will also solicit comments from these groups to help refine the draft plan where necessary. These efforts to include the public and interest groups in plan development are expected to lead to a balanced and effective Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program in Massachusetts.
The ultimate goal of the management measures that will be implemented through this Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program is to reduce NPS pollution in Massachusetts. In order to truly solve the problem, however, individuals will need to make changes is the way they live. Consequently, CZM will develop an aggressive public information and education campaign to teach people about the problems caused by NPS pollution and to assist them with the simple steps that they can take to reduce the problem.
In addition to the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, Massachusetts has several other state initiatives to address NPS pollution in coastal waters and other surface water bodies. The most prominent of these initiatives are:
In 1987 Congress amended the Clean Water Act and included the Section 319 Nonpoint Source Program. This legislation allows states to develop a management plan to address problems associated with nonpoint sources of pollution. In Massachusetts, MassDEP took the lead in developing a Clean Water Act Nonpoint Source Program for the surface water bodies throughout the state. The primary role of this program is to identify the sources of NPS pollution and to assist local governments to develop plans to eliminate these problems.
One of the major components of Massachusetts Nonpoint Source Program is the Watershed/Basin Initiative. MassDEP divided the watersheds and basins within the state into five separate groups. Every year, MassDEP works with the towns and cities within one of these groups to develop consistent and coordinated permitting strategies on point source and NPS pollution issues. Because the permits are effective for five years, this creates a continual cycle whereby every five years MassDEP returns to review and update all permits within each watershed.
In addition, MassDEP has put together the Nonpoint Source Management Manual: A Guidance Document for Municipal Officials. This document was written for local conservation commissions and other government officials and outlines management practices that reduce or eliminate NPS pollution from agricultural, urban, forestry, and construction sites. It also includes model bylaws that can be used by towns to implement these management practices.
In 1987, Congress established the National Estuary Program as part of the Clean Water Act. The goal of the National Estuary Program is to protect and restore the health of estuaries while supporting economic and recreational activities. To achieve this goal, the U.S. EPA helps to create local programs by developing partnerships with local government agencies. In Massachusetts, two National Estuary Programs have been implemented: the Buzzards Bay National Estuary Program (NEP) and the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Program (MassBays). These programs are administered through CZM and are funded by EEA and the U.S. EPA.
As National Estuary Programs, the Buzzards Bay NEP and MassBays are required to develop Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plans (CCMPs) for their bays. These CCMPs include management strategies that protect the bays from pollution threats, including NPS pollution. The CCMPs are advisory plans, rather than regulatory documents. Consequently, the cooperation of local governments is needed if the CCMPs are to be successfully implemented.
The goal of the Buzzards Bay NEP is to characterize and assess water quality problems in Buzzards Bay (a declared estuary of national significance). In 1988, the Buzzards Bay NEP began the scientific research and coordination with planners, scientists, and local, state, and federal managers that went into developing the final plan. With the completion of the CCMP in 1991, the Buzzards Bay NEP began working with local governments to implement NPS pollution control strategies, as well as other pollution prevention measures.
The MassBays Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP) was finalized in 1996, contains 15 major Action Plans with 72 specific action items, and serves as a blueprint for coordinated action among all levels of government to restore and protect the diverse natural resources of the Bays.
The Neponset River Watershed Initiative is an effort to develop an integrated watershed management approach to protect and improve water quality in the Neponset River basin. The initiative attempts to integrate the efforts of both public and private resources to develop a plan to control both point and nonpoint sources of pollution. Once completed, the approach developed through this initiative will be used as a model for other river basins throughout Massachusetts. Consequently, the focus of the initiative is on developing strategies that can be repeated in other areas of the state.
State agencies involved in the Neponset River Watershed Initiative include MassDEP, EEA, CZM, DEM, and the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement. MassDEP is currently conducting extensive water quality monitoring in the area to determine sources of pollutants and to update water management permitting in the basin. In addition, other state agencies provide technical assistance to local governments and businesses within the watershed. On the federal level, SCS is also involved in the Neponset River Watershed Initiative and provides technical assistance on erosion issues.
The private partners in the Neponset River Watershed Initiative are led by the Neponset River Watershed Association. This nonprofit group has agreed to bring their members into the initiative, as well as to work with local governments, businesses, and residents within the Neponset watershed to help develop an integrated water quality approach for the river basin.
Together, the public and private partners in the Neponset River Watershed Initiative are developing comprehensive strategies for protecting water quality. The partnership also ensures that all those with a stake in the environmental protection of the Neponset River, as well as the economic health of the region, are included in the initiative.
NPS pollution occurs as a result of everyday activities that release contaminants to the environment. Each and every one of us, therefore, can help solve this problem. Please help make Massachusetts coastal waters cleaner by following these tips.
U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, January 1993. Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program: Program Development and Approval Guidance.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, January 1993. Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters. 800-B-92-002.