Nonpoint Source Pollution Cleanup Essential to Great Lakes Strategy

CHICAGO, Illinois, December 16, 2005 (ENS) - Actions to address nonpoint source pollution are high on the agenda in the final version of the $20 billion Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy released earlier this week in Chicago.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson joined other federal, state, local and tribal officials to unveil the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy that will serve as a blueprint for prioritizing future actions to restore and enhance the lakes.

Johnson committed to specific actions among federal agencies to accelerate cleanup of sediment contaminated by runoff and other pollutants, return another 200,000 acres of wetlands to ecological health in partnership with the states, reduce the spread of invasive species, and make beaches cleaner.

The nonpoint source actions are outlined in the strategy in addition to actions that will stop the introduction of more aquatic invasive species; improve wet weather discharge controls from combined and sanitary sewers to enhance drinking water quality; reduce the discharge of mercury, PCBs, dioxins, pesticides and other toxic substances to the Great Lakes; and clean up the 31 most contaminated locations designated under the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement more than 15 years ago.


Industrial area of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio where the river burned in the 1960s. Stormwater crossing the city carries pollutants to the river, which empties into Lake Erie. (Photo by K. Rodriguez courtesy EPA)
Water pollution from nonpoint sources is a substantial contributor to the impairment of waters across the Great Lakes basin, the Regional Collaboration Strategy recognizes. Nonpoint source pollution is present throughout the basin, and impacts vary greatly in frequency and severity across the Great Lakes.

The complexity of the pollutants and their presence in soil, water and air make pollution abatement for nonpoint sources particularly difficult to address, and strategies to date have failed to deliver widespread stream and lake restoration necessary for the protection and maintenance of the Great Lakes, the document says.

Impacts have been particularly severe in the coastal wetlands and tributaries that once buffered the Lakes from environmental damage.

Other prime impact areas include western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, Green Bay, the coastal region of Ohio, 31 selected Areas of Concern designated for priority federal action, and selected tributaries or near-shore areas.

Due to this variability, the tools and strategies required to address nonpoint source pollution must be tightly coordinated among partner agencies and organizations and must be geographically targeted, the strategy document says.

In addition to working directly to address pollutant stressors, effective reduction of nonpoint sources will also include integrating control strategies with local land use and smart growth issues.

Five nonpoint source pollution stressors - nutrients, contaminants, pathogens, sedimentation, and altered flow regimes - enter the Great Lakes through three primary pathways: surface runoff, groundwater infiltration, and atmospheric deposition.


The erosion of Woodtick Peninsula and damage to the marsh behind is evident north of Toledo, Ohio on Lake Erie. (Photo courtesy Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority)
Nonpoint source pollution in each of the five forms damages plants and animals in the Lakes, threatens human health, reduces recreational opportunities, and increases the cost of treating drinking water and dredging harbors and marinas.

Actions against stressors have direct short-term costs, the strategy document says, but they often save money in the longer-term and sometimes make new sustainable growth possible.

By Executive Order in May 2004, President George W. Bush recognized the national significance of the Great Lakes, established a federal task force and supported the creation of a Great Lakes Regional Collaboration.

Over the past year, more than 1,500 people from throughout the Great Lakes basin participated on eight strategy teams to develop the recommendations that form the basis of the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy.

The Nonpoint Source (NPS) Strategy Team says there are three fundamental barriers to addressing nonpoint source pollution more effectively in the long-term: authority, funding, and coordination.

To improve the effectiveness of decisionmaking, the NPS Strategy Team suggests designating or establishing an organization to coordinate efforts, roles, and initiatives among federal, state, and local agencies and private organizations in the Great Lakes basin.


Black terns resting on dead branches over an eastern Lake Ontario wetland at Sandy Pond, New York. (Photo by K. Rodriguez courtesy EPA)
The combination of federal, state, tribal, and local institutions and programs already actively involved in reducing nonpoint sources has resulted in many successful projects across the basin. However, despite these successes, pollution from nonpoint sources has led to a Great Lakes ecosystem that is deteriorating in health and quality.

The NPS Strategy team stresses the need for better water quality monitoring and maintenance of Best Management Practices once they are in place.

By 2010, the NPS Strategy team set a goal to restore, recover, and protect a net increase of 550,000 acres of wetlands within the Great Lakes basin. The same wetland acreage is recommended for restoration by the Habitat Strategy Team.

To achieve that goal, the team recommends that funding of between $77 million and $188.7 be provided annually over five years to fund restoration of 550,000 acres of wetlands.

By 2015, the team set a goal to restore, recover, and protect a net increase of 450,000 additional acres of wetlands within the Great Lakes basin, for a total of one million acres.

To measurably reduce at least hundreds of thousands of tons of sediment, pounds of phosphorous loading, and pounds of nitrogen loading in to the Great Lakes basin, the NPS Strategy Team set a goal by 2010, to create 335,000 new acres of buffer strips within the Great Lakes basin. By 2020, the goal is to create one million new acres of buffer strips

The team recommends that $335 million should be provided to restore 335,000 acres of buffers over five years.


Red clay erosion shows up as a sediment plume off the south shore of Lake Superior, Wisconsin. (Photo by Albert Dickas courtesy University of Wisconsin- Superior)
In addition, the team says that $120 million should be allocated by 2010 to achieve a 40 percent reduction in soil loss in 10 selected watersheds.

Another important goal set by the NPS Strategy Team is to reduce livestock agriculture’s contribution to nonpoint source loading by 40-70 percent through comprehensive nutrient management planning (CNMP) and practice implementation.

By 2008, the team recommends that 70 percent of all livestock farmers will attend education programming regarding nutrient management.

By 2010, all acreage utilized for livestock production in a major phosphorous-impaired Great Lakes watershed in each Great Lakes State should be covered by certified CNMPs, the team recommends.

By 2010, triple the number of certified CNMP providers in the basin that directly assist farmers.

By 2015, the goal is that 70 percent of all livestock production in the U.S. portion of the Great Lakes basin will be covered by certified, phosphorous-based CNMPs.

The team recommends that $106 million in funding should be provided to support the development and implementation of comprehensive nutrient and manure management on livestock farms.

To improve flow regimes to meet sediment reduction goals and restore sustainable biological communities, the NPS team recommends that by 2010, in all watersheds classified as severely or moderately impacted based on degree of altered hydrology and ecological sensitivity there should be a better understanding of baseline conditions, appropriate assessment criteria, and application of the most strategic remediation alternatives to foster the strategy's goal of restoring a natural flow regime.


Bleached boards from an old lumber mill are exposed amid the wetlands vegetation at Grassy Point Wetland, an ecological restoration site at the mouth of the St. Louis River, Duluth, Minnesota, on Lake Superior. (Photo by P. Collins courtesy EPA)
By 2015, the NPS team set a goal to restore and manage the hydrologic regime in 10 selected watersheds to restore sustainable biological communities and reduce excessive sediment loadings.

By 2020, the goal is to document improvements in: measurable changes in hydrology, reduction in peak flow and volume; measurable reduction in bank erosion and sediment loading; and measurable improvement in the health of the biological community in significant portions of 10 urban watersheds and/or sediment loading into areas where these watersheds discharge to the Lakes.

The team recommends that $18 million should be provided annually over five years to hydrologically improve 10 urban watersheds of various sizes.

In addition, EPA Administrator Johnson said his agency will work with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expedite projects to restore wetlands and aquatic habitat. This effort includes streamlining the wetlands permit process specifically for restoration and water quality projects in the Great Lakes basin.

EPA and the states will also take action to restore another 200,000 acres in the basin so they can perform their indispensable, natural functions. Johnson said, "Healthy wetlands support biological diversity, help maintain valuable economic resources like fisheries, provide flood control and filter pollution."

All of the Great Lakes Collaborative Strategy teams recognized that in many areas of the Lakes, historic stressors have combined with new ones to reach a point where ecosystem-level changes occur rapidly and unexpectedly. As a result, there is a new sense of urgency for action on the highest priorities for restoring and protecting the Great Lakes.