Controlling Coastal Pollution: Nonpoint Sources

Polluted runoff from land presents additional challenges to improving coastal water quality.

Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, great strides have been made to protect our Nation's waters from pollutants. Most of this success has come by targeting point source pollution discharged directly from pipes. However, nonpoint source pollution resulting from various indirect sources is more difficult to control. Today, nonpoint source pollution poses the largest threat to coastal water quality in the United States.

As water flows into creeks and rivers, pollutants picked up from land via runoff are transported to coastal waters. Water reaching the coast might include fertilizers and chemicals, oil and gasoline from road; untreated sewage from boats, pets, and failing septic systems; and soil from construction sites.

Polluted runoff can create serious problems for coastal resources and has been linked to beach closures, fish kills, algal blooms, habitat degradation, and loss of aquatic species diversity and abundance, including important commercial and recreational fish.

The Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program, a joint program between NOAA and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ensures coastal states have the tools to address polluted runoff. It focuses on pollution prevention rather than only responding to existing water quality problems, and encourages management measures at the local level that improve coastal water quality.

One example is an effort between the New Hampshire Coastal Nonpoint Program and other partners to create the Natural Resources Outreach Coalition (NROC).  NROC provides coordinated technical assistance to municipalities within the coastal watershed to address nonpoint source pollution and implement regulatory efforts at the local level.  Since it began in 1999, NROC has helped 16 communities update land use plans and ordinances to be more effective in reducing polluted runoff, protecting wetlands, and preserving open space.

A coastal community yields

As water flows from land, it brings pollutants that affect coastal health. Credit: NOAA NOS

For more information:

NOAA's Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program

New Hampshire's Natural Resources Outreach Coalition