By Joel Beauvais
Nutrient pollution remains one of America’s most widespread and costly environmental and public health challenges, threatening the prosperity and quality of life of communities across the nation. Over the last 50 years, the amount of excess nitrogen and phosphorus in our waterways has steadily increased, impacting water quality, feeding harmful algal blooms, and affecting drinking water sources. From the Lake Erie algae blooms to the Gulf of Mexico dead zone, nutrient pollution is impacting every corner of our country and economy.
In 2011, EPA urged a renewed emphasis on partnering with the states and key stakeholders to accelerate the reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution through state nutrient load reduction frameworks that included taking action in priority watersheds while developing long-term measures to require nutrient reductions from both point and non-point sources. Many states and communities have stepped up and taken action, supported with EPA financial and technical assistance. States have worked with partners to reduce excess nutrients and achieve state water quality standards in over 60 waterways, leaving nearly 80,000 acres of lakes and ponds and more than 900 miles of rivers and streams cleaner and healthier. And, in the Chesapeake Bay region, more than 470 wastewater treatment plants have reduced their discharges of nitrogen by 57 percent and phosphorus discharges by 75 percent.
We’ve made good progress but this growing challenge demands all hands on deck nationwide. Recent events such as the algae bloom in the St. Lucie Estuary in Florida and high nitrate levels in drinking water in Ohio and Wisconsin tell us we need to do more and do it now.
That’s why I signed a memorandum that asks states to intensify their efforts on making sustained progress on reducing nutrient pollution. EPA will continue to support states with financial and technical assistance as they work with their local agricultural community, watershed protection groups, water utilities, landowners, and municipalities to develop nutrient reduction strategies tailored to their unique set of challenges and opportunities. Partnerships with USDA and the private sector – for example the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) projects in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and more efficient fertilizer use on sensitive lands such as in the Maumee River basin in Ohio – are yielding more rapid nutrient reductions in areas most susceptible to the effects of nutrient pollution. Private sector partnerships that engage the power of the food supply chain, such as the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, hold much promise too. Innovative permitting solutions are driving improvements. For example, Boise, Idaho’s wastewater treatment plant permit that allows them to meet their nutrient limits in part by treating and reducing phosphorus in agricultural return flow in the nearby Dixie Drain at less cost to the taxpayers. These examples and others show us that states, in cooperation with federal agencies and the private sector, can drive nutrient reduction actions.
To help states make further immediate progress, this year EPA will provide an additional $600,000 of support for states and tribal nutrient reduction projects that promise near-term, measurable nutrient load reductions. This assistance will focus on public health threats from nitrate pollution in drinking water sources and harmful algal blooms in recreational waters and reservoirs.
With continued collaboration and partnership, I am confident we will make greater and quicker progress on achieving significant and measurable near-term reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. In turn, we will support a more vibrant economy and improve public health for all.
Read more about EPA efforts to reduce nutrient pollution.