Point and Nonpoint Pollution

Water and the Environment

Both point and nonpoint pollution have a major impact on America’s waterways. Point pollution is that which comes from a single major source such as a factory. This type of pollution is regulated by the EPA through the Clean Water Act. However, politicians and administrators have criticized the Clean Water Act’s effectiveness and scope. Further, environmental groups like the Sierra Club are urging their members to do what they can to have this law strengthened. Despite the amount of legislation dedicated to point pollution, nonpoint pollution has actually become the most damaging to the environment. Since non-point pollution is the cumulative runoff from many small individual sources, it is hard to regulate and police. Instead, individual citizens must take steps on their own to remedy the problem.

What is point pollution?

When most people think of water pollution, they think of point pollution: a single source such as a factory with a pipeline reaching to the nearest stream.  Much of this pollution comes from industrial sources, such as coal mining, stainless steel production, uranium mining, petroleum production, etc.

What is done to prevent/ regulate it?

The federal Clean Water Act of 1970 placed restrictions on the untreated pollutants that American businesses can discharge into waters. Responsibility fell to the states themselves to police their own industries with the understanding that if the state could or would not, the federal government would enforce the law.

What else can be done?

Point source pollution has been lessened since the Clean Water Act, but it has not been entirely eliminated. In fact, it is growing again since the Clean Water Act was severely gutted during the early 2000s and has not been fully reinstated. The Sierra Club is urging its members to do the following:

1. Call their congressman and urge him to strengthen the Clean Water Act

2. Email the President’s administration to hold them to their promise to fight for the Clean Water Act.

3. Write a letter to the editor about both point and nonpoint pollution.

What is nonpoint pollution?

The sources of water pollution in this country are both point and non-point pollution. Non-point pollution comes from individual citizens; the home owner working in the yard who allowsfertilizer in water from his lawn, or the car owner who spills oil onto the driveway. These and millions of other small pollutants are washed everyday into our storm sewers and sent directly to our streams. Cities that carefully clean their household waste water often do nothing to treat storm water runoff.

What is done to prevent/ regulate it?

Point and nonpoint pollution are equally damaging to our waterways and our own health. However, we regulate one and largely ignore the other. While the Water Quality Act of 1987, an amendment to the Clean Water Act, attempted to limit municipal nonpoint pollution, but the program has faced funding problems and delays.  This is at least partially because cities have little incentive to police individual homeowners for small amounts of backyard pollution and have even less incentive to build expensive storm-water treatment facilities.

What else can be done?

In the meantime, individuals should do what they can to clean up their own backyards. Everyone should be aware that the small pollutants that people use in their everyday lives add up to giant consequences in the long run.