oversight

Water Pollution: Greater EPA Leadership Needed to Reduce Nonpoint Source Pollution

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-10-15.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                            WATER POLLUTION
                            Greater EPA
                            Leadership Needed to
                            Reduce Nonpoint
                            Source Pollution


                                                           IllIll
i



                                                            142637




        BBSIBIcI’ED---    Not to be released outside the
    *   General Accounting OiYice unless specifically
        appmved by the Off’lce of Congressional
        Ii-e-iations*   -
                                    RELEASED
^.   .   ._.   “...   ”   .,   ..,   ,.   ,“,   .._.,”   .   .   .   .   ..-   1--   -....   --.-   -.--_---~   ..-“-
Resources, Community, and
Economic Development Division

B-236683

October 16,199O

The Honorable Glenn M. Anderson
Chairman, Subcommittee on Investigations
  and Oversight
Committee on Public Works and Transportation
House of Representatives

The Honorable Bob McEwen
Ranking Minority Member, Subcommittee on
  Investigations and Oversight
Committee on Public Works and Transportation
House of Representatives

As requested by the former Chairman and former Ranking Minority Member, we have
reviewed whether federal programs and activities are inhibiting state and local efforts to
control nonpoint source pollution. Specifically, this report discusses (1) the barriers that may
be inhibiting state and local nonpoint control efforts, noting in particular federal programs
that may be contributing to the problem, and (2) what actions EPAcan take to better focus
federal efforts on reducing nonpoint source pollution.

As arranged with your offices, unless you publicly announce its contents earlier, we will
make no further distribution of this report until 30 days after the date of this letter. At that
time, we will send copies to other appropriate congressional committees; the Administrator,
EPA;and the Director, Office of Management and Budget. We will also make copies available
to other interested parties,

This work was performed under the direction of Richard L. Hembra, Director, Environmental
Protection Issues, who may be reached at (202) 275-6111. Other major contributors to this
report are listed in appendix I.




J. Dexter Peach
Assistant Comptroller General
Executive Summq                                                                      ,


             Although significant efforts have been made to restore the quality of the
Purpose      nation’s waters since the Clean Water Act’s passage in 1972, many are
             still heavily polluted. Moreover, increased concern has developed in
             recent years over the toxicity and potential health effects of many of
             the contaminants being detected in these waters. According to the Envi-
             ronmental Protection Agency (EPA), the nation’s remaining water quality
             problems are largely attributable to pollution from “nonpoint”
             sources-diffuse sources of pollution rather than pollutants discharged
             from a single, specific “point” source.

             Concerned about the impacts of nonpoint source pollution and the pros-
             pect that federal programs may be inadvertently exacerbating the
             problem, the former Chairman and former Ranking Minority Member of
             the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, House Committee on
             Public Works and Transportation, asked GAOto determine (1) what bar-
             riers may be inhibiting state and local efforts to control nonpoint source
             pollution, noting in particular federal programs that may be contrib-
             uting to the problem, and (2) what actions EPAcan take to improve the
             focus of federal efforts on reducing nonpoint source pollution problems.


             Nonpoint source pollution is the by-product of a variety of land use
Background   practices, including farming, timber harvesting, mining, and construc-
             tion. It also results when rain washes pollutants in urban areas into
             sewer systems and storm drains (urban runoff). Agriculture accounts
             for the largest share of the nation’s nonpoint source pollution, affecting
             about 50 to 70 percent of assessed waters (evaluated for water quality)
             through soil erosion from croplands and overgrazing, and runoff of pes-
             ticides and fertilizers.

             Given the diversity of nonpoint source pollution and its relationship to
             local land uses, the Congress historically has been reluctant to allow EPA
             to deal directly with the problem. While the Water Quality Act of 1987
             left primary responsibility for nonpoint source pollution control with
             the states, it expanded EPA'Srole by requiring the agency to review and
             approve (1) state assessments of the extent to which nonpoint sources
             cause water quality problems and (2) state programs designed to
             address these problems. In addition, EPAhas acknowledged its own
             responsibility in its 1989 Nonpoint Sources: Agenda for the Future “to
             provide strong leadership for the national nonpoint source pollution
             control program and help states and local governments overcome bar-
             riers to successful implementation of nonpoint source measures.”



             Page 2                                 GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                             Executive Summary




                             Among the problems GAOidentified as significantly affecting state and
Results in Brief             local efforts to control nonpoint source pollution are the inherent con-
                             flicts between some federal agencies’ policies and states’ water quality
                             goals. A prime example of the problem is the U.S. Department of Agri-
                             culture’s (USDA)farm commodity programs, which indirectly contribute
                             to nonpoint source water pollution through policies that encourage use
                             of chemicals and pesticides. Among the other problems confronting state
                             and local efforts to control nonpoint source pollution are (1) insufficient
                             monitoring data on both the scope and impacts of the problem and on
                             the effectiveness of potential solutions and (2) political sensitivities in
                             controlling local land uses that indirectly cause water pollution.

                             In 1989, EPAoutlined an ambitious 5-year agenda to focus the agency’s
                             efforts to deal with many of these problems. The agenda identified, for
                             example, ways to improve federal coordination, help meet state and
                             local information needs, and help state and local governments deal with
                             sensitive land use issues. Nevertheless, GAOconcludes that EPA'Sagenda
                             will remain largely unfulfilled if the agency stays on its present course.
                             Resource constraints are an underlying problem, as they are in many
                             environmental programs. However, in the case of nonpoint source pollu-
                             tion, resource constraints may also reflect inappropriate allocation of
                             available funds among the agency’s point source and nonpoint source
                             pollution control programs.



Principal Findings

Barriers to Controlling      In its rep0I.T on alternative agriculture (GAOIPEMD-90-12,
                                                                                     Feb. 16, 1990),
                             GAOfound that USDA'Sfarm programs reinforce the use of conventional
Nonpoin t Source Pollution   farming practices and that many of these practices contribute to soil
                             erosion and water pollution. A major problem involves the specialization
                             in program crops year after year, which the farm programs encourage
                             by basing program benefits on historical crop production levels. Over
                             time, this practice depletes the soil and leads to pest problems which, in
                             turn, may lead to a greater need for agricultural chemicals. USDA
                             recently undertook a Water Quality Initiative to better understand the
                             water quality impacts of some of its farm programs, but, as reported in
                             a 1990 GAOrepOrton USDA'Swater quality prO#XtI(GAO/RCED-90-162, July
                             23, 1990), further efforts are needed to integrate water quality concerns
                             into agency operations.



                             Page 3                                 GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                Executive Summary
                                                                                                       ,




                                GAOfound that other key barriers impeding state and local efforts to
                                control nonpoint source pollution may not be directly attributable to
                                federal activities. For example, vital monitoring data are missing on
                                both the scope and impacts of the problem, and on the effectiveness of
                                potential solutions. Without sufficient information on scope and
                                impacts, it may be difficult for public officials to convince landowners
                                of the need for action and to target resources toward the most serious
                            I   problems.

                                Although regulatory restrictions are often needed against harmful land
                                use practices to effectively cope with the problem, GAOfound that polit-
                                ical sensitivity over land use regulation remains a formidable barrier to
                                dealing with nonpoint source pollution. Nevertheless, an increased open-
                                ness has emerged at all levels of government to confront such issues,
                                GAOidentified a number of innovative land use programs and activities
                                to address nonpoint source pollution, particularly at the state and local
                                levels. For example, Wisconsin’s “Bad Actors” law allows the state to
                                regulate polluting farms when owners refuse to cooperate with volun-
                                tary programs. GAOnoted that land use requirements are more likely to
                                be successfully applied when the public is better educated about the
                                risks the problem poses to their health and the environment.


Shift in Priorities Could       EPA'SNonpoint Sources: Agenda for the Future acknowledged the seri-
Help EPA Implement Its          ousness of these barriers in coping with nonpoint source pollution and
                                presented an ambitious plan for EPAto deal with them in fiscal years
Agenda                           1989 through 1993. It calls for EPAto (1) work with USDAand other agen-
                                cies to better integrate water quality concerns into USDA'Sand other
                                agencies’ programs, (2) develop the technical information states need to
                                conduct monitoring programs and develop water quality standards, and
                                (3) conduct activities to raise public awareness about nonpoint source
                                pollution and thereby garner public support for land use regulations. In
                                each case, however, EPAofficials told GAOthat resource constraints have
                                significantly inhibited the agency’s progress in implementing its agenda.
                                For example, EPAofficials told GAOthat an EPA-sponsored interagency
                                task force on nonpoint source pollution has not met since October 1988
                                because EPA'Slimited nonpoint source pollution staff have had to devote
                                their attention largely to reviewing state assessments and management
                                plans and nonpoint source pollution grant applications.

                                A key contributing factor to these resource constraints is that available
                                funds are overwhelmingly oriented toward point source control activi-
                                ties rather than nonpoint source. However, the agency’s own analysis of


                                Page 4                                 GAO/RCFD-Bl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                  Executive Summmy




                  comparative risks posed by alternative pollution problems suggests that
                  nonpoint source water pollution poses a level of health risk comparable
                  with that presented by point sources and substantially more serious eco-
                  logical risks. The Director, EPA'SOffice of Water Regulations and Stan-
                  dards, explained that, among other factors, the agency’s budgetary
                  priorities reflect statutory mandates that place greater emphasis on pro-
                  grams to control point source pollution rather than nonpoint source
                  pollution.

                  GAObelieves that while EPAcannot set its own priorities without regard
                  to congressional mandates, it is incumbent upon EPA,as the nation’s lead
                  environmental organization, to try to influence its priorities according to
                  its assessment of relative environmental risk. Such a reorientation need
                  not result in a “wholesale revision” of the agency’s budget in line with
                  perceived environmental risk. Some shift in priorities, however, could go
                  a long way toward allowing EPAto implement its agenda and thereby
                  assist state and local nonpoint source pollution control programs.


                  GAOrecommends that the Administrator, EPA,establish funding priori-
Recommendations   ties among its water quality programs that will allow the agency to
                  pursue key objectives of an effective nonpoint source agenda that have
                  heretofore made little progress under existing funding constraints,
                  Other recommendations to further EPA'Schances of success in imple-
                  menting its nonpoint source pollution agenda are included in chapter 4.


                  In light of (1) the importance of nonpoint source pollution as a primary
Matter for        cause of the nation’s remaining water quality problems and (2) the over-
Congressional     whelming emphasis of EPAresources devoted to point source programs,
Consideration     the Congress may wish to consider allocating EPA'Swater quality
                  funding during the fiscal year 1992 budget process to provide greater
                  emphasis on controlling nonpoint source pollution.


                  GAOdiscussed its findings with EPAofficials, who generally agreed with
Agency Comments   the information presented, and has included their comments where
                  appropriate. However, as agreed, GAOdid not obtain official EPAcom-
                  ments on a draft of this report.
           Y




                  Page 6                                 GAO/RCEDBl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Executive Summary                                                                                   2

Chapter 1                                                                                           8
Introduction            Types of Nonpoint Sources of Pollution
                        The Link Between Nonpoint Source Pollution and
                                                                                                    8
                                                                                                    9
                             Alternative Land Uses
                        States Retain Primary Role for Nonpoint Source Pollution                   11
                             Under Water Quality Act of 1987
                        Objectives, Scope, and Methodology                                         11

Chapter 2                                                                                          14
Barriers Impeding       Agency Policies Conflict With Water Quality Goals
                        Information Deficiencies Restrict States’ Ability to Deal
                                                                                                   15
                                                                                                   22
State Efforts to             With the Problem
Control Nonpoint        States Lack Technical Information Needed to Develop                        26
                             Water Quality, Standards
Source Pollution        Magnitude of the Problem Dwarfs Resources Available to                     29
                             Deal With It
                        Conclusions                                                                30

Chapter 3                                                                                          32
Addressing Nonpoint     Agriculture: Greater Reliance on Land Use Provisions to
                              Protect Water,Quality
                                                                                                   32
Source Pollution by     Resource Extraction: Preventing Long-Term Pollution                        36
Coping With Sensitive         Problems Through Early Consideration of Land Use
                              Implications
Land Use Issues         Urban Runoff: Building in Controls to Prevent Pollution                    38
                              in New Development Areas
                        Silviculture: Combining Mandatory and Voluntary Land                       40
                              Use Controls
                        Conclusions                                                                41

Chapter 4                                                                                          43
Strengthening EPA’s     Resolving Conflicts Between Federal Agencies’ Policies                     44
                             and Water Quality Goals
Efforts to Control      Developing Nonpoint Source Pollution Criteria and                          46
Nonpoint Source             Standards
                        Monitoring Needed to Identify the Extent of Pollution and                  47
Pollution u                  Effectiveness of Corrective Actions
                        Public Education Efforts Need to Be Expanded                               48



                        Page 6                                GAO/WED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
               Contenta




               Low Funding Priority for Nonpoint Source Pollution                         49
               Conclusions                                                                53
               Recommendations to the Administrator, EPA                                  54
               Matter for Consideration by the Congress                                   55

Appendix       Appendix I: Major Contributors to This Report                              56

Tables         Table 1.1: Impacts of Alternative Land Uses on Soil                        10
                   Erosion Rates
               Table 4.1: Funding Under Section 319 of the Water                          52
                   Quality Act

Figure         Figure 2.1: National Forest System of the Forest Service                   20




               Abbreviations       I

           Y
               CRP        Conservation Reserve Program
               EPA        Environmental Protection Agency
               USDA       U.S. Department of Agriculture


               Page 7                                GAO/RCED01-10 Nonpoiut Source Pollution
Chapter 1                                                                                                    c

Introduction                                                                                                       4


                        Significant efforts have been made to clean up the nation’s waters since
                        the Congress enacted the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amend-
                        ments of 1972, known as the Clean Water Act.’ For example, through
                        1988 the federal government had spent about $48 billion to assist in con-
                        structing municipal sewage treatment plants under the Environmental
                        Protection Agency’s (EPA) Construction Grants Program. While EPA
                        reports that these investments and other programs have made progress
                        in achieving the goals of the act, states continue to identify significant
                        portions of waterways that are still not fit for designated uses such as
                        fishing and swimming. Moreover, concern has increased in recent years
                        over the toxicity and potential health effects of many of the pollutants
                        being detected in these waters.

                        According to EPA'SNational Water Quality Inventory: 1986 Report to
                        Congress, the nation’s remaining water quality problems are largely
                        attributable to pollution from nonpoint sources. EPAdefines nonpoint
                        source water pollution as diffuse pollution resulting from land runoff,
                        precipitation, atmospheric deposition, drainage, or seepage, rather than
                        a pollutant discharge from a specific, single location. It notes that 76
                        percent of impaired acres of lake water, 65 percent of impaired stream
                        miles, and 45 percent of impaired estuarine square miles are affected by
                        nonpoint source pollution.


                        EPAgroups the primary sources of nonpoint source pollution (nto the fol-
Types of Nonpoint       lowing categories: agriculture, urban runoff, hydromodification,
Sourcesof Pollution     resource extraction, silviculture, construction, and land disposal.

                      . Agriculture. About 50 to 70 percent of the assessed surface waters2 are
                        adversely affected by agricultural nonpoint source pollution, which
                        stems from soil erosion from cropland and overgrazing, and from pesti-                              ,
                        tide and fertilizer application.
                      . Urban runoff. About 5 to 15 percent of assessed surface waters are
                        harmed by pollution from streets, residential neighborhoods, industrial
                        sites, and parking lots. Urban runoff often contains nutrients and toxic
                        and oxygen-demanding materials, and causes a higher-than-normal
                        water temperature.
                      . Hydromodification. About 5 to 15 percent of assessed surface waters
                        are impacted when the drainage, flow, or quantity of available water is

                        ‘The Clean Water Act was subsequently amended in 1977,1981, and 1987.

                        ‘Assessed surface waters are those that have been monitored or otherwise evaluated for impacts of
                        nonpoint source pollution.



                        Page 8                                              GAO/RCEDBl-10 Nonpoiut Source Pollution
      .

                            Chapter 1
                            Introduction




                          changed by stream channelization, reservoir construction, flood preven-
                          tion, or lake drainage. When water flow patterns are changed, sediment
                          deposits increase and habitat is altered.
                        l Resource extraction. About 1 to 10 percent of assessed surface waters
                          are affected by pollution from past practices such as abandoned mines,
                          improperly sealed wells, and mining waste piles3
                        . Silviculture. About 1 to 5 percent of assessed surface waters are
                          affected by pollution from forestry operations, such as timber cutting.
                          Problems include sedimentation and habitat alteration. Logging roads
                          were identified as being a particular concern.
                        . Construction. About 1 to 5 percent of assessed surface waters are
                          harmed by construction practices. Pollution from construction activities
                          is localized and periodic. Land development and highway construction
                          can cause sediment and toxic material to enter surface water and alter
                          habitats,
                        l Land disposal, About 1 to 5 percent of assessed surface waters are
                          impacted by land disposal activities-leakage    from septic tanks and
                          land application of sewage sludge.

                            In addition to the initial contamination, nonpoint source pollution can
                            have longer-lasting impacts. For example, a heavy rain can wash tons of
                            soil off a field, and the material can either scour out a stream bed or
                            settle out and cover the gravel used by fish to spawn. Long after the
                            water clears up, use of the stream for fish production may be reduced.
                            Similarly, when trees and bushes are cut next to stream banks, the
                            debris falling into the stream or washing into the water will initially
                            degrade the water. A longer-term problem, however, may be caused by
                            the higher water temperatures resulting from a lack of shade. In time,
                            these temperatures can make the stream a less desirable habitat for fish
                            and other animals, or may make it totally uninhabitable.


                            The way individuals use land can substantially affect the amount of
The Link Between            nonpoint source pollution runoff, For example, even though some soil
Nonpoint Source             naturally erodes from undisturbed land, the amount of erosion can
Pollution and               increase manyfold if the trees are cut or the land is farmed. In addition,
                            if the land is used for housing or urban development, erosion from land
Alternative Land Uses       clearing and excavation during construction can increase tremendously.
                            Table 1.1 shows the variation in how different land uses can affect sedi-
                            ment runoff.
           ”
                            “Water pollution from active mines is considered point source pollution and is controlled under EPA’s
                            National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.



                            Page 9                                                GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                         Chapter 1
                                         Introduction




Table 1.1: Impacts of Alternative Land
Uses on Soil Erosion Rates                                                                               Tons of soil eroded per acre per
                                         Type of activity                                                                            year
                                         Mature, undisturbed forest                                                                        <l
                                         Farming                                                                                        5-G
                                         Intensive logging                                                                              >lOO
                                                                                                                                     -____
                                         Construction                                                                               50- 1,400
                                         Source: Report to the Congress: Nonpoint Source Pollution in the U.S. (Washington, D.C.: EPA, Jan
                                         1984)

                                         Land use actions can also cause toxic pollution. For example, heavy pes-
                                         ticide use in farming has resulted in the runoff of toxic pollutants, and
                                         mining in sensitive land areas has produced leaching of heavy metals
                                         and acid mine drainage. These problems have resulted in substantial
                                         degradation of some streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries and groundwater.

                                         To control such excessive sediment and toxic runoff, government can
                                         take a variety of measures- from voluntary efforts to encourage envi-
                                         ronmentally sound land use practices among private individuals and
                                         organizations to regulatory restrictions on harmful activities. However,
                                         land use restrictions and controls are sensitive political issues. Although
                                         states have authority to control land use, land use controls tend to be
                                         considered a local government tool. The federal government has used a
                                         voluntary cost-sharing approach to encourage improved land use
                                         actions, particularly with regard to federal efforts to control soil
                                         erosion.

                                         Because of this political sensitivity, coupled with the decentralized
                                         nature of the problem, the Congress has been reluctant to allow the fed-
                                         eral government to deal with nonpoint source pollution. The 1972 Clean
                                         Water Act, for example, required state and local agencies with jurisdic-
                                         tion in areas having severe water quality problems to identify the
                                         nature, scope, and extent of nonpoint source pollution, as well as ways
                                         to control it. However, the act did not provide any funds for imple-
                                         menting nonpoint source controls, comprehensive requirements for their
                                         use, or direct authority for EPAto regulate nonpoint sources.




                                         Page 10                                               GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                Chapter 1
                                Introduction




                                The Congress expanded EPA’Srole somewhat through the Water Quality
States Retain Primary           Act of 1987 but still leaves primary responsibility for nonpoint source
Role for Nonpoint               pollution with the states. The Water Quality Act amends the Clean
Source Pollution                Water Act and requires states to develop nonpoint source control pro-
                                grams and activities. Section 319 requires states to (1) assess the extent
Under Water Quality             to which nonpoint sources cause water quality problems and (2) develop
Act of 1987                     programs for addressing these problems.

                                EPAis charged with reviewing and approving the state assessments and
                                management program plans. EPAis also required to prepare an annual
                                report to the Congress on the status of activities and programs imple-
                                mented to control nonpoint source pollution and the progress made in
                                reducing nonpoint source pollution.

                                Sections 319(b)(2)(F) and 319(k) of the act acknowledge that certain
                                federal programs or activities may have an effect on state efforts to con-
                        .       trol nonpoint source pollution by authorizing states to review certain
                                federal projects and activities under the procedures in Executive Order
                                12372 to determine whether they conflict with the states’ nonpoint
                                source management programs. Under the executive,order, if a state
                                determines a proposed federal activity or project is not “consistent”
                                with its management program, the federal agency must accommodate
                                the state’s concerns or explain in a timely manner why it cannot do so.4


                                On January 4, 1989, the former Chairman and former Ranking Minority
Objectives, Scope,and           Member, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight, House Com-
Methodology                     mittee on Public Works and Transportation, asked us to determine
                                whether federal programs and activities were inhibiting state efforts to
                                control nonpoint sources of pollution. On the basis of subsequent discus-
                                sions with Subcommittee staff, we agreed to answer the following
                                questions:

                            l   What barriers are inhibiting state and local nonpoint pollution control
                                efforts; in particular, what federal programs are causing or contributing
                                to state and local problems in controlling nonpoint sources of pollution?
                            l   What actions can EPAtake to help better focus federal efforts on
                                reducing nonpoint pollution?



                                4As explained in ch. 4, however, if the federal agency chooses not to make changes in its program, the
                                state cannot force the agency to do so.



                                Page 11                                               GAO/RCED.91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 1
Introduction




The barriers inhibiting nonpoint source pollution control efforts are dis-
cussed in chapters 2 and 3. The actions we believe EPAshould take to
improve nonpoint source pollution control efforts are discussed in
chapter 4.

Our work in addressing these issues largely consisted of (1) examining
studies of the nonpoint source pollution problem and (2) interviewing a
variety of federal and state officials in selected states and federal
regions. Among the key studies examined were (1) America’s Clean
Water, the States’ Nonpoint Source Assessment 1985, by the Association
of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators, (2)
Results of the Nationwide Urban Runoff Program, issued in 1983 by EPA,
and (3) A Report to the Congress: Activities and Programs Implemented
Under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act-Fiscal Year 1988, EPA'S
latest nonpoint source report. In addition, we relied upon recent GAO
work examining specific aspects of the nonpoint source pollution
problem. This work included, for example, analysis of the U.S. Depart-
ment of Agriculture’s (USDA)management of its water quality activities.
We also reviewed some states’ nonpoint source assessment reports on
file at EPAheadquarters.

During the review we obtained information on the following key ques-
tions concerning specific sources of nonpoint source pollution: (1) What
is the environmental problem; (2) What federal policies, programs, and
activities contribute to it; (3) What are EPAand other cognizant federal
agencies doing to help deal with it; (4) What are states and/or local gov-
ernments doing to resolve it; and (5) What remaining problems need to
be addressed.

Interviews and fieldwork included contacts with officials at EPAhead-
quarters, four EPAregions, and several states within the regions. The
regions we visited-Philadelphia,     Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle-
were selected to obtain insights into a variety of pollution sources,
including urban runoff, resource extraction, silviculture, and agricul-
ture. To obtain additional insights into specific issues regarding these
pollution sources, we visited six states within these regions-California
(agriculture), Maryland (urban runoff), Minnesota (agriculture), Oregon
(agriculture, particularly grazing issues), Pennsylvania (resource extrac-
tion), and Washington (silviculture).




Page 12                                GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
.   Chapt8rl
    IImoduction




    We also contacted officials at USDAand the Department of the Interior’s
    Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement at their head-
    quarters and field offices. In addition, we contacted several other orga-
    nizations, such as the Puget Sound Water Quality Authority, EPA'S
    Chesapeake Bay Program Office, the Columbia River Intertribal Fish-
    eries Commission, and the Association of State and Interstate Water Pol-
    lution Control Administrators. We also contacted representatives of a
    variety of environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Wilderness
    Society, Resources for the Future, Natural Resources Defense Council,
    and the Oregon and Washington Environmental Councils.

    Our review work was conducted from May 1989 through July 1990 and
    was performed in accordance with generally accepted government
    auditing standards. The views of EPAand state officials responsible for
    the programs discussed in this report were sought during our review,
    and we have incorporated their comments where appropriate. In accor-
    dance with the wishes of the requesters’ offices, however, we did not
    solicit formal comments from EPAon a draft of this report.




    Page 13                                GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 2

Barriers Impeding Stak Efforts to Control ’
Nonpoint SourcePollution

                  The diversity and pervasiveness of the nation’s nonpoint source pollu-
                  tion make it particularly difficult for the federal government to identify
                  its causes and implement comprehensive solutions. Still, we found that
                  certain federal policies and activities act as barriers to state and local
                  efforts to deal with the problem. Removal of these barriers can go a long
                  way toward helping to resolve the problem.

                  In other cases, we found that key barriers impeding state and local
                  nonpoint source control efforts may not be directly attributable to fed-
                  eral activities. In a number of these instances, however, EPAand other
                  agencies are missing opportunities to play a constructive role in helping
                  state and local governments advance their control efforts. Of particular
                  importance is the need for federal assistance in resolving data deficien-
                  cies and in developing necessary pollution criteria and standards.

                  Among the key barriers to state and local efforts to control nonpoint
                  source pollution are the following:

              . The way federal agencies pursue their primary missions can conflict
                with state water quality goals. The problem is most evident at USDA.
                Among the USDAprograms that have inadvertently affected water
                quality are its crop price and income support programs and its timber
                programs.
              . Vital monitoring data are missing on both the scope and impact of the
                problem and on the effectiveness of potential solutions, Without suffi-
                cient scope and impact information it would be difficult for public offi-
                cials to reallocate resources towards the most serious problems and to
                convince landowners of the need for action. Without information on the
                effectiveness of corrective actions, it has been difficult to ensure that
                scarce resources are used in the most cost-effective manner.
              l “Criteria documents” and other technical information are not available
                to states to enable them to set water quality standards for nonpoint
                source pollution. Such standards would allow states to identify (1) the
                level at which a pollution problem requires attention and (2) whether
                corrective actions are having their intended effect. State and federal
                officials told us that existing state water quality standards need to be
                supplemented because they were developed primarily to address point
                source problems and consequently have limited applicability in control-
                ling nonpoint source pollution.
              . The sheer magnitude of nonpoint source pollution dwarfs the resources
                available to deal with it, even with the best control efforts by federal,
                state, and local government. While available federal and state funding is
                on the order of millions of dollars, serious efforts to correct the


                  Page 14                                GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                            Chapter 2
                            BarrIem Impeding State Efforts to Control
                            Nonpoint Source Pollution




                            problem-even          specific problems in limited geographical areas-would
                            cost billions.


                            How federal agencies pursue their primary missions can inadvertently
Agency Policies             conflict with the Clean Water Act’s objective to protect and restore the
Conflict With Water         quality of the nation’s waters. The conflict is especially true for USDA
Quality Goals               because some of its most significant programs and activities involve-
                            and even promote- activities that can lead to increased nonpoint source
                            pollution, Chief among these programs are the Department’s farm com-
                            modity price and income support programs and timber harvesting
                            programs.


Policies for Agricultural   USDA’S  commodity programs stabilize, support, and protect crop prices
                            and farmer income.’ Commodity programs are a dominant force in agri-
Commodity Programs          culture, with more than two-thirds of all U.S. cropland enrolled in these
Contribute to Water         programs. All farmers growing eligible crops are entitled to participate
Pollution                   in the farm programs. All crop price and income support programs rely
                            on the concept of an acreage base planted with a given commodity and a
                            proven program yield for those base acres.2 The acreage base is the
                            average of the acreage that is planted, or “considered planted,“3 in the
                            program crop during the previous 5 years. The program yield is the
                            average crop yield for the 5-year period from 1981 to 1985, dropping
                            the highest and lowest yields. Farmers are not allowed to plant more
                            than their base acreage in a program crop as long as they are partici-
                            pating in the farm program. Farmers for some program crops may opt to
                            plant less of a program crop, but they will receive reduced payments.
                            Land not planted must be devoted to conservation uses that involve
                            measures to protect land from weeds and erosion. Common measures
                            include growing grass and leaving crop residue on the ground.

                            The crop acreage base system gives participants limited flexibility to
                            grow other program or nonprogram crops. A farmer growing a program
                            crop cannot plant any other program crop unless that farmer also has a
                            crop acreage base for that crop (the “cross-compliance” provision). For

                            ‘Program-supported commodities include feed grains, wheat, soybeans, cotton, tobacco, peanuts, rye,
                            rice, sugar, wool, mohair, honey, and dairy products.
                            2See“Impact of Commodity Policy on Alternative Agriculture” in the National Research Council,
                            Alternative Agriculture (Washington, DC.: National Academy Press, 1989), page 69.

                            3Land is “considered planted” if it is taken out of production to comply with program requirements
                            or if it could not be planted because of weather or other conditions.



                            Page 15                                              GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 2
Rarrlere Impeding State Efforts to Control
Nonpoint Source Pollution




example, a participating farmer growing corn would lose benefits for the
corn program if the farmer also grows wheat on those acres but does not
have an established wheat acreage base.

In a February 1990 report,4 we noted that such requirements reinforce
farmers’ use of conventional farming practices and that many of these
practices contribute to soil erosion and water pollution. A major problem
involves the specialization in program crops year after year, which the
program encourages by basing benefits on historical crop production
levels, This practice depletes the soil and leads to pest problems, which,
in turn, may lead to a greater need for agrichemicals, including synthetic
fertilizers and pesticides. By the same token, these program provisions
make it economically difficult for farmers to adopt alternative practices
(i.e., crop rotation, maintaining protective soil cover, and use of resis-
tant crops) that would reduce agrichemical use and soil erosion.

USDAhas recognized that the existing commodity programs tend to dis-
courage adoption of crop rotation that would reduce the use of fertil-
izers, pesticides, and other chemicals. The Department has proposed
changes to the 1990 farm bill to allow farmers to plant and harvest any
combination of program crops or to plant but not harvest legumes,
grasses, and other soil-building crops without loss of benefits,

USDAhas also acknowledged that its programs affect water quality and
has initiated, in recent years, several measures to deal with the problem.
In its January 1989 report, A National Program for Soil and Water Con-
servation: The 1988-1997 Update, USDAestablished water quality as its
second priority, behind controlling soil erosion on rural lands, giving it
greater attention in a variety of agency programs such as research, edu-
cation, and technical and financial assistance.

USDAsubsequently began its Water Quality Initiative, which is designed
to determine the relationship between agricultural activities and
groundwater quality and to develop and encourage the adoption of eco-
nomically effective agricultural and agrichemical management practices
that protect water quality. To accomplish these goals, USDAplans to
operate programs in three areas: (1) research and development, (2) data
base development and evaluation, and (3) education and technical
assistance.


4Alternative Agriculture: Federal Incentives and Farmers’ Opinions (GAO/PEMDQO-12,
                                                                               Feb.16,
1990).


Page 16                                        GAO/RCEDBl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
-.I.-_-- .I_. .__- ~                                                                                      --
                       Chapter 2
                       Barriers Impeding State Efforts to Control
                       Nonpoint Source Pollution




                       lJSII.4expects its Water Quality Initiative to be more comprehensive than
                       prior water quality efforts. Whereas previous programs historically
                       focused on the effects of soil runoff on surface waters, the initiative
                       addresses agricultural chemicals and groundwater contamination, in
                       addition to general concerns about agricultural nonpoint source
                       pollution.

                       The initiative is also expected to be better coordinated than prior water
                       quality efforts, which were managed using a decentralized, agency-by-
                       agency approach. For this initiative, ~JSDAdeveloped a b-year Water
                       Quality Program Plan. Many of the initiative’s activities will be joint
                       efforts among a number of IJSDAagencies, and involve EPA,the 1723.Geo-
                       logical Survey, and state and local entities as well. In addition,
                       intradepartmental committees are responsible for the ongoing coordina-
                       tion of each of the initiative’s activities. All the agencies involved in the
                       initiative will participate in coordinated evaluations of their respective
                       activities.

                       While these steps signify that the Department is beginning to better
                       manage and coordinate its water quality activities, we concluded in a
                       previous report that I JSDAneeds to improve its focus on water quality
                       responsibilities if it is to achieve its water quality goals.” We noted that
                       the mqjor portion of IJSDA’Swater quality activities are still being
                       planned and implemented at the IJnder and Assistant Secretary level,
                       agency-by-agency, providing limited interaction between agencies’ pro-
                       gram planning or implementation. Although IJSDAhas established a
                       Working Group on Water Quality, it does not have authority to monitor
                       overall water quality progress and to change the direction of programs,
                       if necessary. Also, it is unclear who is responsible for coordinating with
                       other departments and agencies. To deal with these problems, we rccom-
                       mended that IJSIlAestablish a permanent, full-time, departmentwide,
                       focal point to oversee the planning, implementation, and evaluation of
                       all its water quality programs and activities.




                       “A#?~ulLrw:TlSIl.4NcodsLoIktter FocusIts WaterQualityIksponsibilitics(GAO/II(:EI)-RO-I~i’L,
                       .July23,lR9fl


                       Pagts 17                                        GAO/HCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                           Chapter   2
                           Barriers Impeding State Efforts to Control                                    ,
                           Nonpoint Source Pollution




Forest Service Policies    Silviculture, the management of forest land for timber, can affect water
Have Traditionally         quality in several ways. For example, erosion and mud slides can occur
                           when soils and hillsides are disturbed by falling timber, logging
Emphasized Timber          machinery, towed logs, and logging road construction and use; streams
Production Over            may be polluted by waste timber and brush; shading vegetation may be
Environmental Protection   removed, resulting in increased water temperatures and injury to cold
                           water gamefish; and water quality may also be degraded by applications
                           of pesticides, fertilizers, and fire retardants to forest lands.

                           The Forest Service, part of IJSDA, is one of the nation’s largest land man-
                           agers and timber producers. The Forest Service reported that, as of Sep-
                           tember 1989, it managed and protected a 191-millon acre National
                           Forest System-an area nearly as large as the 14 eastern states from
                           North Carolina through New England. (See fig. 2.1.) pg. 20-21.) In 1982
                           the Forest Service reported that in the western states, approximately 56
                           percent of all commercial timber land was under federal control. These
                           lands contain not only timber but also much of the spawning and rearing
                           habitat for the nation’s fisheries. The national forests in California,
                           Idaho, Oregon, and Washington contain about 50 percent of these states’
                           salmon and steelhead trout spawning and rearing habitat.

                           The Forest Service is responsible for balancing the potentially con-
                           flicting objectives of harvesting timber while protecting the water
                           quality on these lands. On one hand, the Service is required to provide a
                           steady flow of timber to help meet the nation’s need for wood products.
                           On the other hand, it is required to protect and develop the national
                           forests’ other resources such as soil and water, and fish and wildlife.
                           The protection of fishery resources from the potentially harmful
                           impacts of timber harvesting is accomplished primarily through the
                           restriction of timber activities in and around streams.

                           Environmental groups have consistently maintained that the Service has
                           emphasized timber production at the expense of protecting water
                           quality and other environmental goals, and they cite as evidence the
                           way the Forest Service allocated its resources, with most of the agency’s
                           budget devoted to timber harvesting, and only a small amount to its fish
                           and wildlife, and soil and watershed management programs. Forest Ser-
                           vice officials acknowledge this historical funding emphasis. The Budget
                           Coordinator on the IIeadquarters’ Fisheries and Wildlife staff estimated
                           that the agency’s timber program has traditionally been funded at 85 to
                           90 percent of its requirements while the programs that protect and
                           develop the forests’ other resources have generally received 60 to 65
                           percent of their funding requests. Other Forest Service officials also told


                           Page 18                                      GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 2
Ramiera Impediug State Efforts to Control
Nonpoint Source Pollution




us that meeting timber harvest quotas has been a very high-priority
activity for forest supervisors. They said these quotas have previously
sent a message throughout the agency that timber production is more
important than the protection of other resources such as water quality
or fisheries.

Nevertheless, the Forest Service may be lessening its traditional bias
towards timber production. For example, Forest Service officials told us
that several actions have been taken in recent years, including reducing
the size of clear cuts, implementing silvicultural best management prac-
tices, and using buffer strips along streams. Also, funding for the
agency’s watershed and air management, and wildlife and fisheries pro-
grams has been substantially increased in recent years. The watershed
and air program increased 54 percent from fiscal year 1987 to fiscal
year 1990, and the wildlife and fisheries program increased 98 percent
for the same period. Forest Service officials acknowledged, however,
that even with the increases in the fish and wildlife program, fish and
wildlife activities are still underfunded.




Page 19                                     GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                                                                                                                                                                 ,



“_“,,   _.   “I   ,_   .I.^   .._.   __-.   .I.--.   -----




                                                                                       Chapter 2
                                                                                       Barriers Impeding State Efforts to Control                                                    ,
                                                                                       Nonpoint Source Pollution




Figure 2.1: National Forest System of the Forest Service




                                                                                                                             Northern   Region




                                                                                                                                                           Mountain     Region


                                                                                                                                         @Denver     I-\




                                                                                                                                    “a-
                                                                                                  ‘_                                             I
                                                                                                                                                             Southern
                                                                  :                                                                                           Region
                                                             \
                                                                 / ]   Alaska Region




                                                                                        Page 20                                             GAO/R(:ED-91.10 Nonpoint. Source Pollution
.
               Chapter 2
               BarrJew Impeding State Effoti     to Control
               Nonpuiut Source Pollution




    \   EasterA Region




                                            ’   Southern     Region


                                                 Puerto Rico




                                                                 National Forest System
                                                 L      -        Regional Boundaries
                                                            @I   Regional Headquarters




               Source: U.S. Forest Service, May 1988.




               Page 21                                                 GAO/WED-91-10 Nonpoiut Source Pollution
                           Chapter 2
                           Barriers Impeding State Efforts to Control
                           Nonpoint Source Pollution




                           Important monitoring data are missing on both the scope and impacts of
Information                nonpoint source pollution and on the effectiveness of potential solutions.
Deficiencies Restrict      State and local officials need information on the extent of the problems
States’ Ability to Deal    to educate landowners (and the public at large) on the impact of their
                           activities and on the need to prevent such problems. Information on the
With the Problem           effectiveness of corrective actions is needed to identify whether such
                           actions are having their intended result or whether revised strategies
                           are needed.


Extent of the Problem Is   We have identified data deficiencies on the extent of the nonpoint
Not Known                  source pollution problem. In particular, we noted data deficiencies on (1)
                           mining discharges from abandoned noncoal mines in Western states and
                           (2) silvicultural activities in Washington State that illustrate the need
                           for better information.

Abandoned and Inactive     In a 1976 study, an EPAcontractor found that 80 percent of the nonpoint
Noncoal Mines              source pollution from inactive and abandoned ore and mineral mining
                           areas was occurring in five states- California, Colorado, Idaho, Mis-
                           souri, and Montana. These states’ recent nonpoint source assessments
                           and discussions with state officials confirm that inactive and abandoned
                           noncoal mines and their associated wastes continue to pollute thousands
                           of stream miles. The principal pollutants from these mines and mine
                           waste piles were acid mine drainage, heavy metals, and sedimentation.
                           According to state officials, however, the data upon which these deter-
                           minations are based represent only a portion of the historic noncoal
                           mining problems in these states. For example, a Colorado official said
                           that the state had studied the environmental impact from about 8,000
                           abandoned noncoal mines but that the mines studied were only a small
                           portion of the total estimated number of 50,000 abandoned/inactive
                           mines in Colorado.

                           A task force of the Western Governors’ Association recently identified
                           abandoned/inactive noncoal mines as a major pollution problem but
                           noted that data collection efforts are needed to better define the extent
                           of the problem. In response to this concern, officials in EPA'SOffice of
                           Solid Waste stated that EPAwill provide funding to the states so they can
                           identify available data on these mines.

                           The Congress has recognized the problem of abandoned noncoal mines
                           and the need to develop data about it. In October 1989, the House of
                           Representatives passed H.R. 2095, Abandoned Mine Reclamation Act of



                           Page 22                                      GAO/RCEDBl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                         Chapter 2
                         Jhrriera lmpedlng State Ef’forte to Control
                         Nonpoint Source Pollution




                         1989. Among other things, H.R. 2095 would create a fund to be adminis-
                         tered by the Department of the Interior. Federal grants from the fund
                         would be used by the states to reclaim noncoal abandoned mines, To
                         participate in funding, a state would be required to develop an inven-
                         tory of land and water resources that have been harmed by past noncoal
                         mining and are in need of reclamation.

Silviculture   Impacts   Because Washington State does not have sufficient data, it may not
                         know the extent of nonpoint source pollution from silviculture. In its
                         August 1989 report, Nonpoint Source Pollution Assessment and Manage-
                         ment Program Plan, the Washington State Department of Ecology stated
                         that only 12 percent of the state’s approximately 40,000 river miles and
                         26 percent of its 614,000 lake acres have been assessed. Furthermore,
                         the Manager of the Nonpoint Source Unit of the Washington Department
                         of Ecology told us that the state’s assessment was not representative
                         because the data base contains little information on small streams and
                         remote lakes where silvicultural activity might be causing significant
                         pollution problems. Also, he said that most of the information on the
                         condition of the state’s water bodies comes from ambient water quality
                         monitoring stations, which are primarily located and operated to eval-
                         uate point sources of pollution and, as such, are of limited value in iden-
                         tifying nonpoint source pollution problems.

                         Also in its 1989 report, the state noted that there is an absence of ade-
                         quate monitoring data and that silvicultural nonpoint source pollution
                         problems are probably being underreported. It also states that silvicul-
                         tural activity is affecting only 1 to 3 percent of the state’s impaired
                         rivers, yet in 1982 the Forest Service reported that commercial forest
                         lands covered about 42 percent of Washington’s land mass. State offi-
                         cials said their ability to develop specific corrective actions is limited
                         because data are not adequate to identify and locate each pollution
                         problem. Similarly, Forest Service officials are developing management
                         plans for timber sales, grazing allotments, and other proposed activities
                         on federal land within the state without comprehensive stream quantity
                         and quality information.

                         Both Washington State and Forest Service officials acknowledge that
                         limited data complicate decisions on whether forest operations will neg-
                         atively impact water quality. However, they are implementing programs
                         to augment the information they have. The Manager of the Nonpoint
                         Source Unit of the State’s Department of Ecology stated that he will use
                         water quality data from field monitoring of silvicultural impacts on
                         state and privately owned forests to build on the limited information


                         Page 29                                       GAO/RCEDBl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                            Chapter 2
                            Barrier~~ Impeding State Efforts to Control
                            Nonpoint Source Pollution




                            currently available from the fixed sampling stations. In addition, he
                            stated that the Department is negotiating with the Pacific Northwest
                            Region (Region 6) of the Forest Service to obtain more monitoring infor-
                            mation on the condition of state waters located in the national forests.

                            The Forest Service plans to inventory the condition of a small part of
                            the approximately 20,000 miles of rivers and streams in the region. The
                            detailed river/stream inventory will cover approximately 10 percent of
                            the region’s miles of rivers and streams over the next 2 years. Forest
                            Service Region 6 officials stated that this inventory will look at the
                            waterways in relation to the state’s water quality standards and at the
                            general condition of the waters as fishery resources. It will note such
                            things as the location and condition of spawning areas, the presence and
                            size of pools, the existence and condition of habitat structures and
                            obstructions to fish passage, and the location of places where sediment
                            accumulation could become a problem. The Manager of Washington
                            State’s Nonpoint Source Unit stated that the Forest Service’s inventory
                            efforts have a long way to go but that its initial effort represents a rea-
                            sonable start. It will take a lot of resources to inventory some 2,000
                            miles of waterways, particularly considering the extra efforts involved
                            such as habitat evaluations that are more extensive than basic water
                            monitoring. Forest Service officials told us that although better informa-
                            tion will be helpful, the Forest Service does not have to wait for this
                            information before taking action to control nonpoint source pollution.
                            They are already implementing best management practices because pre-
                            vention of problems is more productive than trying to clean up after
                            damage has occurred.


Information on              In our August 1988 report,fi we noted that to ensure that limited funds
Effectiveness of Nonpoint   are being spent where they will have the greatest impact, information is
                            needed to measure the effectiveness of EPAprograms. We emphasized
Source Corrective Actions   that the lack of such information was aggravated by reductions in envi-
Is Often Missing            ronmental monitoring activities and problems with the quality of data
                            that are collected. We maintained that these problems hamper EPA’S
                            ability to detect and assess changes in the environment.

                            Federal and state officials also told us that before necessary resource
                            investments can be made to deal with nonpoint source pollution, they
                            need some indication that the corrective actions planned will have their

                            6Environmental Protection Agency: Protecting Health and the Environment Through Improved Man-
                            agement (GAO/RCED 88-101, Aug. 16,1988).



                            Page 24                                          GAO/RCEDdl-10     Nonpoint Source Pollution
                           Chapter 2
                           Barriers Impeding State Efforts to Control
                           Nonpoiut Source Pollution




                           intended effect. To obtain such assurances, they maintain that they
                           need basic monitoring data identifying the cause of the problem and the
                           effectiveness of alternative actions to control it. However, such activi-
                           ties are generally not being undertaken.


InfornWinn
      .uv-- Deficiencies   The major cause of information deficiencies on both the extent of the
Causeci Largely by         nonpoint source problem and the effectiveness of corrective actions is
                           the lack of monitoring data. According to EPA'SNational Water Quality
InadeqUclbt:
      I**~+~1Monitoring    Inventory: 1988 Report to Congress, for example, pollution levels have
                           been assessed for only 20 percent of the nation’s coastal miles, 29 per-
                           cent of the stream miles, and 41 percent of the lake and reservoir acres.
                           Moreover, the available data often focus on point sources of pollution
                           rather than nonpoint sources. EPAacknowledged this problem in its
                           August 1989 A Report to the Congress: Activities and Programs Imple-
                           mented Under Section 319 of the Clean Water Act-Fiscal Year 1988,
                           noting that the nation has focused largely on impacts caused by tradi-
                           tional point sources because these discharges were causing major, visible
                           problems in our nation’s waters.

                           EPAhas also acknowledged that the absence of monitoring data on the
                           effectiveness of corrective actions has been a major barrier to control-
                           ling nonpoint source pollution. For example, EPA'SSeptember 1987
                           report, Surface Water Monitoring: A Framework for Change, noted that
                           information gaps preclude water quality managers from assessing the
                           environmental benefits of nonpoint source management actions and
                           point source controls. The EPAreport further noted that the agency does
                           little ambient (in stream) monitoring to determine if programs or “best
                           management practices”7 are working as they were designed. It added
                           that without data on the effectiveness of alternative actions, little incen-
                           tive exists to make mid-course corrections to programs or policies that
                           may not be working as originally planned.

                           Federal and state officials in some of the states we visited generally sub-
                           stantiated the lack of effectiveness monitoring. Without information on
                           the effectiveness of corrective actions, these officials generally ques-
                           tioned whether implemented best management practices are as effective
                           as they are thought to be. According to these officials, money is seldom
                           available to carry out programs and to monitor for their effectiveness

                           ‘Rest management practices are methods, measures, or practices to prevent or reduce water pollu-
                           tion, including but not limited to, structural and nonstructural controls, and operation and mainte-
                           nance procedures.



                           Page 25                                                GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                        Chapter2
                        Banlers Impeding State Efforts to Control
                        Nonpoint Source Pollution




                        but such monitoring is needed to ensure that actions taken will have
                        their intended effect.


                        State water quality standards are a key element of EPA'Sand the states’
States Lack Technical   programs to control nonpoint source pollution because they are needed
Information Needed to   to identify at what level a pollutant concentration becomes a problem.
Develop Water Quality   They are also needed to measure the effectiveness of actions taken to
                        control nonpoint source pollution. However, EPAhas not developed tech-
Standards               nical information or “criteria” upon which standards to control
                        nonpoint source pollution are based.8 EPAhas issued some water quality
                        criteria to guide states in developing surface water quality standards.
                        However, current state standards are generally oriented towards point
                        sources of water pollution and often do not adequately measure
                        nonpoint source pollution impacts. EPAhas not developed criteria for
                        groundwater, and water quality standards do not exist at all for many
                        pollutants in groundwater.


Current Standards       While state water quality standards for surface waters exist for many
Oriented Toward Point   pollutants, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon, and
                        Washington State water quality officials told us that these standards
Source Problems         were generally developed for point source pollutants, and need to be
                        modified and supplemented to deal with nonpoint source pollution. For
                        example, Forest Service officials told us that their best management
                        practices for dealing with silvicultural nonpoint pollution are measured
                        against point-source oriented state standards for water temperature,
                        turbidity (presence of suspended solids such as sediment), and dissolved
                        oxygen. As such, these standards are usually established numeric
                        thresholds that are applied uniformly. According to these officials, this
                        approach should be modified for nonpoint source pollution because it
                        does not allow for uniqueness in site-specific requirements, the influence
                        of natural occurring conditions, natural variability, or pre-existing
                        conditions.

                        Forest Service officials explained that important factors in identifying
                        and delineating nonpoint source pollution impacts are not fully
                        addressed in turbidity and water temperature standards. Pollution stan-
                        dards for surface waters do not address the impacts that certain
                        nonpoint sources of pollution can have on the physical condition of a

                        scriteria information is scientifically derived values that establish in-stream water quality conditions
                        that protect the ecosystems. EPA develops criteria to protect aquatic life and human health.



                        Page 26                                                GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
chapter 2
Barrlem Impeding State Efforta to   Control
Nonpoint Source Pollution




stream and the aquatic community that inhabits it. For example, sedi-
ment can blanket the bottom of a stream and smother aquatic plants and
fish eggs, and it could make site-feeding and breathing more difficult for
resident fish and aquatic insects. Although they believe sediment needs
to be controlled, Forest Service officials stated that it is hard to deter-
mine and set reasonable, numeric sediment thresholds because of natu-
rally occurring conditions and differences between areas and over time.
Also, they cannot guarantee that unusual storm events will not result in
standard violations. In summary, they want EPA’Sexisting standards
modified and supplemented with additional standards that will improve
nonpoint source pollution control for silviculture while at the same time
allowing for reasonable timber operations.

According to Forest Service officials, nonpoint source pollution may also
be controlled by limiting the extent of change made to the populations of
aquatic insects and fish as a result of activities that produce nonpoint
source pollution. Because different aquatic organisms react to various
types of pollution in different ways, periodic surveys of a stream’s orga-
nisms can indicate changes in the quality of the water and help to iden-
tify the probable nature and sources of pollution. To use this approach,
biological standards are needed to indicate what aquatic populations
would be in streams of good quality so they can be used as a frame of
reference in determining if a stream’s organisms are being degraded.
Forest Service officials said few states have developed such standards
to aid in the control of nonpoint source pollution.

EPAhas known for some time that the control of nonpoint source pollu-
tion would require different approaches and tools than those used to
address the nation’s point source problems, It has also acknowledged
that states would need help with the criteria upon which development
of water quality standards is based. However, the agency has chosen not
to emphasis development of water quality criteria that are specifically
tailored to the needs of nonpoint source pollution control, focusing its
efforts instead on point source pollution.

In April 1990, EPApublished national guidance on developing biological
standards that requires states to develop and establish these standards
in the next 3 years, In addition to biological standards, EPAofficials
acknowledge that sediment standards and other nonpoint source-ori-
ented standards need to be established. In its 1989 Nonpoint Sources:
Agenda for the Future, EPAindicated that it will continue research on
this problem and will issue additional criteria for selected waters within
the next 3 years.


Page 27                                       GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                        Chapter 2
                        Barriers Jmpedine State Efforts to Control
                        Nonpolnt Source Pollution                                                                        ,




Groundwater Standards   While standards for surface waters are needed to better measure the
Are Often Missing or    impacts of nonpoint source pollution, no federal program currently
                        exists to develop groundwater criteria upon which standards are based.
Inadequate              Such standards are important, however, because (1) nonpoint source
                        pollution can contaminate groundwater as well as surface waters and
                        (2) groundwater is the source of approximately half the nation’s
                        drinking water and accounts for almost all drinking water supplies in
                        rural areas. Two of our recent reports have documented that, in the
                        absence of technical EPAsupport in this area, many states lack informa-
                        tion to develop adequate standards to protect groundwater from such
                        problems.

                        In a 1988 report, we noted that state standard-setting activities were
                        hampered by a lack of technical information from EPA.~In addition to
                        having inadequate information upon which to base adequate standards,
                        states often duplicate one another’s efforts in collecting and analyzing
                        information. We concluded that additional information about contami-
                        nants should be developed and disseminated if state standards are to be
                        developed in an efficient and technically sound fashion10

                        In a subsequent report, we noted that in the absence of EPAgroundwater
                        criteria, many states rely on federal drinking water standards as
                        groundwater standards.” However, we found that the appropriateness
                        of doing so is debatable-in the large majority of the locations we
                        examined, groundwater quality surpassed the drinking water standards
                        for all substances measured. In such instances, the adoption of drinking
                        water standards as groundwater protection standards would potentially
                        allow degradation of a considerable amount of groundwater.

                        To assist state groundwater standard-setting activities, we recom-
                        mended in our March 1988 report that EPAprovide the needed technical
                        information through a “criteria document program.“12 EPAmaintained

                        “See Groundwater Standards: States Need More Information Prom EPA (GAO/PEMD-88-6, Mar. 16,
                        1988).
                        “A 1989 report by the National Governors’ Association made similar observations, noting that while
                        EPA had made some progress in providing health risk guidelines for some agricultural contaminants,
                        the limited number of guidelines complicated the efforts of many states to protect their groundwater.
                        See Managing Agricultural Contamination of Ground Water: State Strategies (Washington, DC.:
                        National Governors’ Association, 1989), p. 18.

                        ’ ‘See Groundwater Protection: The Use of Drinking Water Standards by the States (GAO/
                        PEMD-89-1, Dec. 20, 1988).

                        12A groundwater criteria document program is a uniform set of information documents that provides
                        the states with a single, centralized reference source for groundwater contaminants.



                        Page 28                                               GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                      Chapter 2
                                      Barriers Impeding State Efforts to Control
                                      Nonpoint Source Pollution




                                     that such an effort would be too costly and that the same need could be
                                     met by consolidating existing information on the health effects and envi-
                                     ronmental fate of specific substances found in groundwater. We
                                     responded at that time, and continue to believe, that without the
                                     expanded information base that would be available through such a pro-
                                     gram, states are left to develop groundwater standards without needed
                                     information.


                                     Officials in five of the states we visited identified the lack of resources
Magnitude of the                     as a key barrier to controlling nonpoint source pollution, Although some
Problem Dwarfs                       states have or will allocate millions of dollars to deal with the problem,
Resources      Available   to        they maintain that it would require billions to correct.
Deal With It                         Pennsylvania’s efforts to clean up a single nonpoint source problem, for
                                     example, illustrates how the magnitude of the problem dwarfs
                                     resources. Pennsylvania established Operation Scarlift in 1967 to
                                     address the abandoned mine problem, including acid mine drainage pol-
                                     lution According to a state official, Pennsylvania spent $84.5 million on
                                     cleanup projects under this program and had only $45 million available
                                     for new projects at the end of 1988. However, according to the state’s
                                     nonpoint source assessment report, it has 1,701 stream miles polluted
                                     from acid mine drainage, and it will cost between $3 billion and $5 bil-
                                     lion just to address acid mine drainage from these abandoned mines’3

                                     Other states are attempting to set aside money to address nonpoint
                                     source pollution, but their funds are also limited in comparison to the
                                     magnitude of the problem. For example, the Manager of the Nonpoint
                                     Source Unit in Washington State’s Department of Ecology stated that
                                     approximately $8.3 million per year will be made available from state
                                     funds to address nonpoint source pollution, with an additional $3.5 mil-
                                     lion annually from EPAfunds. He also stated that an additional $4.8 bil-
                                     lion will be needed over the next 20 years to upgrade pollution control
                                     facilities and equipment and implement management practices to control
                                     nonpoint source pollution in Washington State. These funds are needed
                                     by state and local agencies to support the development of water quality
                                     management plans, information and education programs, and
                                     stormwater control, and to conduct monitoring needed to enforce the
                                     state’s water quality regulations. According to the Assistant Director of


                                     13Theestimate includes only the cost to treat or otherwise abate polluted discharges originating from
                                     these mines. It does not include the cost of full reclamation of all abandoned mine sites in the state.



                                     Page 29                                                       GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution



            _ . .. -.-.         . .--._ II_._.....-.   .      .^..--- _. .:--. ..-..-. ..__....-...--_
              Chapter 2
              BarrIera Impeding State Efforts to Control
              Nonpoint Source Pollution




              Water and Standards for the Washington Department of Ecology, state
              and local governments simply cannot absorb all these costs.

              In 1987, the Minnesota Legislature established the Clean Water Partner-
              ship Program to protect and improve surface and groundwater in Minne-
              sota. The legislature approved $1.3 million for grants to local units of
              government. When this money is matched locally, approximately $2.6
              million will be available to complete studies and develop implementation
              plans for controlling nonpoint source pollution. The governor is
              requesting an additional $4 million from the state legislature for project
              implementation in the 1990-91 biennium. However, according to the
              Director, Water Quality Division, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency,
              approximately $1 billion will be needed to correct Minnesota’s nonpoint
              source pollution problems through the year 2000. Without federal funds
              to help with this effort, he said that many priority surface waters pol-
              luted by nonpoint sources will not be cleaned up.


              The diversity and pervasiveness of nonpoint source pollution presents
Conclusions   an enormous technical and regulatory challenge to the states. We found
              that a number of federal policies, programs, and activities, however,
              have complicated the task. Chief among them are the policies of some
              USDAprograms that have inadvertently conflicted with states’ water
              quality goals, particularly the agency’s commodity programs. As noted
              in this chapter, USDA'SWater Quality Initiative will help deal with these
              problems but improved Department management will also be needed to
              be effective. Moreover, as we indicate in chapter 4, EPAcan play a more
              constructive role to ensure that water quality concerns are appropri-
              ately integrated into national policies and programs.

              In addition to the inadvertent impacts of some federal programs and
              activities, nonpoint source pollution presents data needs and other tech-
              nical difficulties. These difficulties have impeded the states’ ability to
              monitor and assess the extent of their problems and the effectiveness of
              potential solutions, as well as to set nonpoint source-oriented standards.
              Centralized development of the monitoring techniques and standard-set-
              ting information at the federal level would be more efficient than on a
              state-by-state basis. However, EPAhas not fully a.ddressed these issues
              because of resource constraints and its focus on point sources of
              pollution.

              Finally, a fundamental factor underlying the barriers and inhibiting
              efforts to deal with nonpoint source pollution is the sheer magnitude of


              Page 30                                      GAO/RCEDSl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 2
Barriera Impeding State Efforts to Control
Nonpoint Source Pollutlon




the problem in comparison to the resources available to deal with it.
While funds available to the states are on the order of millions of dol-
lars, serious efforts to correct the problem-even specific problems in
limited geographical areas-would cost billions.




Page 31                                      GAO/RCEPI)l-10   Nonpoint Source Pollution
Addressing Nonpoint SourcePollution by
CopingWith SensitiveLand Use Issues

                        One of the most difficult issues impeding efforts to control nonpoint
                        source pollution is the political sensitivity associated with controlling
                        land use practices that inadvertently cause nonpoint source pollution.
                        Unlike point source discharges that can be more easily identified and
                        regulated with pollutant discharge permits, nonpoint source pollution
                        results from land use practices of millions of property owners and other
                        individuals. In some cases, nonpoint source pollution can only be con-
                        trolled by preventing certain land uses. In others, nonpoint source pollu-
                        tion can be controlled if land uses are practiced in an environmentally
                        acceptable manner.

                        As noted in chapter 1, despite the states’ authority to control land uses,
                        land use controls tend to be considered a local community tool. As a
                        result, any restrictions by the states, and the federal government in par-
                        ticular, tend to be controversial. Nevertheless, while political sensitivity
                        over land use regulation remains a preeminent barrier in efforts to con-
                        trol nonpoint source pollution, an increased openness toward dealing
                        with the issue is emerging as awareness of the seriousness of the
                        problem has grown, We found a number of recent and innovative activi-
                        ties showing that (1) sensitive political land use issues are more likely to
                        be confronted successfully when people are given good information
                        about the risks nonpoint source pollution poses to their health and the
                        environment and (2) controls required during development rather than
                        after development are generally less expensive and politically more
                        acceptable.

                        EPArecognizes in its Nonpoint Sources: Agenda for the Future that land
                        use controls are a big hurdle to controlling nonpoint source pollution and
                        that it needs to support state and local governments as they make diffi-
                        cult land use decisions. Chapter 4 discusses additional measures EPA
                        should be taking to help regulators at all levels of government deal with
                        land use issues associated with nonpoint source pollution.


                        Farm owners have traditionally resisted the idea of regulations gov-
Agriculture: Greater    erning whether or how to farm their lands. The agricultural community
Reliance on Land Use    has long believed that pollution control can be done through various vol-
Provisions to Protect   untary means.USDAhas generally responded with a variety of programs
                        that provide government funds, education, and technical assistance to
Water Quality           farmers to encourage them to implement erosion controls that are con-
          *             sistent with environmental goals.




                        Page 32                                 GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 3
Addressing Nonpoint Source Pollution by
Coping With Sensitive Land Use Issues




As indicated the 1989 National Governors’ Association study, however,
many people-including      the general public-criticize voluntary pro-
grams as ineffective.1 Farmers may favor regulatory controls over a vol-
untary program in some cases. For example, public attitude polls in Iowa
during 1986, at a time when groundwater contamination was becoming a
priority issue, showed that more than 75 percent of Iowa residents were
in favor of regulatory limits on farm chemicals-a surprisingly large
figure for a state with a large farm economy. Other studies also criticize
voluntary programs as ineffective because of low participation, little
incentive for farmer participation, and economic disincentive to partici-
pation (Participation may be discouraged, for example, when a farmer’s
return on an investment in a best management practice is lower than his
c0st.y

In recent years, however, an increasing awareness of agriculture’s envi-
ronmental impact has led the Congress to include more direct means of
discouraging land uses considered detrimental to the environment. The
Food Security Act of 1985, for example, authorized USDAto implement
the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), a program to remove up to 45
million acres of highly erodible cropland from production by 1990.
Under this program, the Secretary of Agriculture can enter into con-
tracts with producers to remove such cropland from production for 10
to 15 years in return for annual rental payments.

USDAoriginally implemented this program primarily for erosion control
but modified it in 1988 to more directly address water quality concerns.
At that time, the agency expanded the CRP eligibility criteria to include
“filter strips”3 for cropland that pose a substantial threat to the degra-
dation of water quality. Additional measures being considered in con-
nection with the 1990 farm bill would expand use of the CRPto deal with
water quality concerns.

In addition to CRP,other provisions of the Food Security Act made
receipt of most federal farm benefits-commodity    price supports, agri-
cultural credit, and crop insurance -contingent on land stewardship
practices. For example, under the conservation compliance provision,

‘Managing Agricultural Contamination of Ground Water: State Strat&es, p, 6.
‘For example, see Poison Runoff: A Guide to State and Local Control of Nonpoint Source Water Pollu-
tion, (New York: Natural
                  Co     Resources Defense until,

3Filter strips are 66- to 99-foot-wide fields located adjacent to streams and bodies of water, which
when planted with grass, shrubs, or trees reduce the amount of sediment and chemicals entering
surface waters.



Page 33                                                GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                          Chapter 3
                          Addreaelng Nonpoint Source Pollution by
                          Coping With Sensitive Land Use Iasues




                          producers with highly erodible lands that are not enrolled in CRP must
                          develop certain conservation practices to reduce erosion on these acres
                          to continue receiving federal farm benefits. However, in our March 1990
                          testimony before the House Agricultural Committee’s Subcommittee on
                          Department Operations, Research, and Foreign Agriculture,4 we’con-
                          eluded that USDAhad relaxed the implementing regulations for the com-
                          pliance provision and had thus reduced the incentive for producers to
                          enroll their most highly erodible land in CRP. As a result, about 70 per-
                          cent of the most highly erodible land eligible for CRP has not been
                          enrolled through 1988.

                          Another key environmental provision of the act is the “swampbuster”.
                          Swampbuster attempts to protect the nation’s wetlands by denying fed-
                          eral farm program benefits to producers who plant an agricultural com-
                          modity on wetlands converted to cropland after December 23, 1985.6
                          However, producers do not lose program benefits until they actually
                          plant on the land they drained or modified. Thus, under the act, farmers
                          can drain wetlands and receive benefits as long as they do not plant a
                          crop. In our recent report; we suggested that the Congress consider
                          amending the law that currently allows conversion of fragile lands
                          without loss of benefits until an agricultural commodity is actually
                          planted. Furthermore, we suggested that wetlands converted for
                          planting be restored or the damage mitigated in order for participants to
                          regain their eligibility for farm program payments.


SomeStates Have Enacted   In addition to this gradual acceptance of some form of agricultural land
Their Own Agricultural    use regulation at the federal level, some states have enacted their own
                          agricultural land use restrictions to control nonpoint source pollution. A
Land Use Restrictions     clear motivating factor in these initiatives has been a recognition that a
                          serious water quality problem exists for which voluntary actions alone
                          are not sufficient.

                          One of the more innovative state land use statutes is Wisconsin’s “Bad
                          Actors” law. The statute was enacted with the strong support of
                          farmers who had voluntarily invested in best management practices to

                          4General Accounting Office’s View on Conservation Provisions of the 19QOFarm Bill (GAO/T-
                               - - ) al-. , lQQO>.
                          6Wetlsnds csn improve water quality by trapping sediment and removing pollutants such as nutri-
           Y
                          ents, pesticides and other toxic substances.

                                                        Compliance Provisions Could Be Made More Effective   (GAO/



                          Page 34                                             GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 3
Addressing Nonpoint Source Pollution by
Coping With Sensitive Land Use Issues




control water pollution, but who had their efforts undermined by a few
of their neighbors who had not cooperated. Under the law, a non-
cooperating farmer may eventually be regulated more stringently as a
“point source” discharger (i.e., subject to monitoring and discharge
limits) if participation is not forthcoming. The Chief of the Nonpoint
Source and Land Management Section of the Wisconsin Department of
Natural Resources stated that the law has been primarily used thus far
to control animal waste and construction runoff. He noted that the law
focuses on the most severe situations because enforcement actions are
time-consuming and staffing is limited.

The 1989 National Governors’ Association study provides some addi-
tional examples of state land use restrictions to control agricultural
water pollution, noting that such restrictions have generally arisen over
concerns about contamination of drinking water supplies.7 The study
describes a 1987 Maine statute to illustrate new state efforts to address
agricultural pollution. The study states that the statute, prompted by
numerous severe cases of pesticide contamination of both air and water,
requires that land used for agriculture must be registered with the local
authorities. The registration includes a statement of crops grown, chemi-
cals used, and chemical application methods employed. Registration
allows local authorities to enforce a 150-foot buffer zone around agricul-
tural land, in which no new development may take place. The new law
also requires that current neighbors be notified of the request for regis-
tration, The neighbors may appeal the eligibility of the land for
registration.

Nevertheless, the study notes that while states have authority to control
land use for groundwater protection purposes, land use controls, per se,
tend to be considered a local matter. Consequently, many states have
amended their zoning enabling legislation to authorize local governments
to make groundwater protection a legitimate purpose of zoning. Signifi-
cantly, the study notes that some states’ zoning legislation “grandfa-
thers” existing uses and therefore exempts them from regulatory
changes. It therefore concludes that land use controls are of potentially
greater use in controlling future land use patterns that may adversely
affect groundwater than they are in controlling or limiting current land
uses.




7SeeManaging Agricultural Contamination of Ground Water: State Strategies, pgs. 6,8, and 23.



Page 35                                             GAO/RCED-ol-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                          Chapter 3
                          Addrerrsing Nonpoint Source Pollution by
                          Coping With Sensitive Land Use Issues




                          Examination of the impacts of abandoned mines in Pennsylvania and
ResourceExtraction:       the state’s regulation of active mines as point sources reinforces the
Preventing Long-Term      view that anticipating and preventing the effects of potentially harmful
Pollution Problems        land uses is often far more effective than remediating these effects once
                          they occur.
Through Early
Considiration Of Land     Coal mining activities occurred prior to the Surface Mining Control and
Use Implications          Reclamation Act of 1977 and resulted in significant environmental deg-
                          radation-scarred     landscapes, abandoned mines, massive coal refuse
                          piles, and streams polluted by acid mine drainage. In its recently com-
                          pleted nonpoint source assessment, Pennsylvania estimated that it
                          would cost $13 billion to $15 billion to reclaim its coal mines abandoned
                          prior to 1977 and correct the acid mine drainage from these mines.

                          Because states’ mining laws afforded widely varying degrees of protec-
                          tion, the Congress enacted the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation
                          Act of 1977 to better protect the environment from the adverse effects
                          of coal mining. Under the act, a permitting program was created that
                          required site evaluations, including examination of the hydrology of the
                          site. The act prescribes uniform, minimum environmental protection
                          standards and concurrent land reclamation requirements to control the
                          surface effects of both underground and surface mining operations.
                          Among its requirements, the act calls for the posting of a bond by the
                          mine operator to ensure that funds will be available to reclaim a site
                          when it becomes inactivemEIn addition, the act requires the establish-
                          ment of a process to identify land areas of the state as unsuitable for all
                          or certain types of surface coal mining operations.


Costly Water Quality      As with other coal mining states, the full requirements of the 1977 act
Problems Not Considered   did not apply to Pennsylvania until the early 198Os, when the state
                          obtained approval to operate its regulatory program (“primacy” pro-
in Early Permitting       gram) from the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining
Decisions                 Reclamation and Enforcement. The period from 1977 to 1982 was Penn-
                          sylvania’s “interim” program period, when the full requirements of the
                          act were not yet in effect and reclamation standards were less stringent.




                          sWe have reported, in a number of reports, deficiencies in the activities of the Department of the
                          Interior and the states in implementing the act’s requirements. These deficiencies included inadequate
                          oversight by the Department of the states’ primacy progrsms and inadequate state program activities
                          in such area9 as bonding, inspections, and enforcement.



                          Page 36                                               GAO/ZtCED91~10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 3
Addressing Nonpoint Source Pollution by
Coping With Sensitive Land Use Issues




In 1986,Rwe reported that operators in Pennsylvania had forfeited
bonds on mining sites primarily from the interim program and that the
state had insufficient funds from the bonds for reclaiming these sites. At
the time of that report, no reclamation had been performed by the state
on about 15,000 acres with environmental problems, including water
pollution and soil erosion. Since then, the state has reclaimed some sites
with the assistance of funds provided from the state’s general revenues
and has provided remining permits for other sites that will be reclaimed
by new operators. However, as of October 1989, Pennsylvania still had
about 15,000 acres with forfeited bonds in which no reclamation action
had been performed by the state as a result of additional bond forfeit-
ures occurring primarily in the interim program.

Moreover, in r&aiming these forfeited sites, Pennsylvania does not cor-
rect major water pollution problems that are occurring on some of them.
According to an official of the state’s Bureau of Abandoned Mine Recla-
mation, many significant acid mine drainage problems cannot be cor-
rected because of the expense of building treatment facilities and
providing perpetual maintenance of these facilities.

In addition to unreclaimed sites in which operators have forfeited
bonds, the Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Mining and Reclama-
tion expressed concern about a large number of additional inactive
mines (in both the interim and primacy programs) that have discharges
requiring treatment. In these cases, the operators have not yet forfeited
their bonds and the state is holding the bonds to ensure that the owners
will treat the discharges. However, according to the Director, the bonds
held on these sites will not cover the cost of treating the discharges. The
Hureau estimated that the total cost for treating all discharges from
identified inactive surface and underground mines would be between
$38 million and $52 million per year.“)




“Surface Mining: Difficulties in Reclaiming Mined Lands in Pennsylvania and West Virginia (GAO/


“‘Pennsylvania identified discharges from surface and underground mines as well as refuse disposal
areas that require treatment to meet the state’s effluent standards for coal mining. The annual costs
are based on projections for amortizing the construction costs for treatment facilities and the annual
maintenance costs over a XI-year period.



Page 37                                                GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                          Chnpter 3
                          Addressing Nonpolnt Source Pollution by
                          Coping With Sensitive Land Use Issues




Land Use Decisions Are    According to the Director of the Pennsylvania Bureau of Mining and
Crucial for Avoiding      Reclamation, acid mine drainage’s potential burden on the state over the
                          long term has led the Bureau to take a much harder look at each pro-
Future Environmental      posed mining site and the site’s potential for future mine drainage
Damage                    problems. To approve a permit under the current primacy program, the
                          state must conclude, on the basis of the applicant’s hydrologic analysis
                          of the site, that it will not generate post-mining discharges. The Director
                          of the Bureau asserted that the state is doing a better job now of
                          avoiding areas with potential acid mine drainage than it did several
                          years ago, noting that the state was now denying many permits in areas
                          with the potential to develop a discharge.


                          The nation’s urban runoff problems also illustrate the advantages of
Urban Runoff:             incorporating pollution control into the planning of new development
Building in Controls to   rather than deferring controls until after the problem has occurred.
Prevent Pollution in      Recent regulations proposed by EPAaddress urban runoff problems pri-
                          marily in incorporated metropolitan areas. However, EPAand others
New Development           agree that it is more cost-effective to undertake pre-development evalu-
Areas                     ations and to implement control measures during development.

                          Althobgh urban runoff is a diffuse source of water pollution and is con-
                          sidered a nonpoint source, most is accumulated as stormwater and dis-
                          charged through conveyances, such as stormwater sewers. Since the
                          1972 amendments to the Clean Water Act, EPAhas been required to regu-
                          late municipal stormwater discharges as point sources by issuing per-
                          mits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. Since
                          1973, EPAhas issued various proposed and final regulations, but no com-
                          prehensive stormwater permit program has been implemented because
                          of court challenges and other delays.

                          IJnder the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act, EPAis initially reg-
                          ulating municipal stormwater systems serving populations over
                          100,OOO.l~In its December 1988 proposal, EPAlaid out a number of
                          options, but it indicated that it preferred to include only incorporated
                          cities with populations of over 100,000, and to exclude counties from its
                          definition. In doing so, EPAwould exclude about 410 counties with popu-
                          lations over 100,000. According to EPA’Sproposal, most larger urbanized
                          areas are comprised of one or more core cities surrounded by urbanized
                          areas outside of city boundaries. Generally, the core areas are already

                          “Under the 1987 amendments, all other stormwater discharges cannot be subject to regulation until
                          Oct. 1. 1992.



                          Page 38                                             GAO/RCEDSl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 3
Addressing Nonpoint Source Pollution by
Coping With Sensitive Land Use Isauea




developed and most new development is occurring outside the bounda-
ries of the core cities.

For example, Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery County, Mary-
land, have both been high-growth counties in the Washington, D.C., met-
ropolitan area with 1988 Bureau of Census population estimates of
770,200 and 704,900, respectively. Both counties would be excluded
from EPA’S proposed regulations. EPA favors limiting coverage to incorpo-
rated municipalities to avoid the administrative complexities of dealing
with (1) the thousands of municipal entities that exist within counties’
boundaries and (2) the county governments. EPA points out that the legal
authority, institutional mechanisms, and financial capability needed for
a successful program do not exist in the case of all municipal entities,
and that complex intergovernmental agreements would therefore be
required.

The Natural Resources Defense Council criticized this approach, stating
in its comments on EPA’S proposal, that

“Hy delaying further the implementation of comprehensive stormwater programs in
the areas of the country that are experiencing the most rapid growth, EPA is losing a
valuable opportunity to prevent stormwater problems rather than rely on expensive
structural controls after development has occurred.”

The Council further stated that EPA’S Nationwide Urban Runoff Program
identified serious stormwater pollution in Nassau and Suffolk Counties
on Long Island, New York, yet none of Long Island would be covered
automatically under EPA’S preferred approach. Finally, the Council
pointed out that by justifying its approach entirely on the basis of
administrative feasibility, EPA will minimize the number of permit appli-
cations during the first phase only to generate a massive influx of appli-
cations for all remaining stormwater in the second phase.

Although its preferred approach would apply only to discharges in
incorporated municipalities, EPA acknowledges the advantages of
expanding coverage to counties. According to EPA’S proposal, most of the
new development is occurring outside the incorporated cities, and these
growth areas offer the most practical opportunities to reduce pollution.
In its proposal, EPA stated that defining municipal systems on the basis
of county boundaries “would allow municipalities flexibility to address
stormwater concerns associated with many areas of rapid development,
rather than relying more heavily on retrofitting controls in older urban



Page 39                                      GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                                                                                                 .

                           Chapter 3
                           Addressing Nonpoint Source Pollution by                                                      ,
                           Coping With Sensitive Land Uee Issues




                           core areas defined by city limits.” EPA’S Nationwide Urban Runoff Pro-
                           gram reported that requiring controls in areas under development is
                           much more feasible and cost-effective than requiring controls in more
                           fully developed areas.


Maryland’s Stormwater      Some states recognize the importance of implementing stormwater con-
Control Program Focuses    trols during land development. Maryland requires each county and
                           municipality to adopt a stormwater management program designed to
on New Development         maintain the volume and quality of the runoff after development as it
                           was before development.

                           1Jnder Maryland’s legislation, a person is generally not allowed to
                           develop any land for residential, commercial, industrial, or institutional
                           use without submitting a stormwater management plan to the county or
                           municipal jurisdiction. According to the Acting Director of Maryland’s
                           Sediment and Stormwater Administration, each jurisdiction has estab-
                           lished procedures for the review, approval, inspection, and enforcement
                           of the plans. These program requirements apply only to new
                           construction.1z

                          -.
                          Forest Service Region 6 officials and the Manager of the Nonpoint
Silviculture:             Source Unit for the Washington State Department of Ecology told us
Combining Mandatory       that Washington is a major timber-producing state and a key area for
and Voluntary Land        spawning fish, including various species of salmon. Headwaters are crit-
                          ical habitats for young game fish and the insects upon which they feed.
Use Controls              They said that these headwaters can be degraded by heavy sedimenta-
                          tion from improper timber harvesting, which, in turn, can devastate
                          fish’s spawning areas.

                          To protect water quality and fish, the Manager said Washington State
                          has developed a coordinated approach to land use controls for nonpoint
                          source pollution from silvicultural activities, which includes both regu-
                          latory and voluntary components. Using this program, the state, local,
                          and industry officials believe they will be able to balance timber har-
                          vesting goals with water quality protection.

                          The Manager said the state’s Forest Practices Act, the Federal Water
                          Pollution Control Act, and associated regulations set out silvicultural

                           “Also according to the Acting Director, the state appropriated $2.6 million between 1984 and 1989
                           for grants to local communities to retrofit stormwater devices on developed sites.



                          Page 40                                              GAO/RCEDBl-10      Nonpoint   Source Pollution
              chaptm 3
              Addrosrlng NonpoInt L?hrce Pollution by
              Coping With fkmltive hand Use beuee




              best management practices and water quality conditions that must be
              adhered to. A voluntary Timber, Fish, and Wildlife Agreement negoti-
              ated between state agencies, Indian tribes, environmentalists, and
              timber industry representatives is the other component of the state pro-
              gram. Parties to this agreement promised to use a more flexible
              approach to improve the normally required best management practices.
              For example, they allowed more cutting of trees in a riparian zone
              because the plan provided for putting gravel in the stream bed, thus
              providing for greater fish enhancement.

              Also, the members agreed to place additional land use restrictions on
              timber harvesting activities near the banks of streams, rivers, and lakes
              in order to better protect fishery habitat; to voluntarily preserve certain
              timber lands for upland wildlife management areas; to correct and
              restore previous habitat degradation; and to submit planned timber har-
              vests for review and amendment to meet site-specific requirements for
              additional environmental protection measures. This agreement also
              established a framework for continued research, monitoring, and evalu-
              ation of whether implemented practices are protecting water quality.

              Washington’s silvicultural nonpoint source control approach shows how
              landowners, land users and government regulators can work coopera-
              tively to balance the inherent conflict between timber production and
              environmental protection. As a result, Washington’s approach has been
              cited as a model for other groups and states to consider in resolving
              their own land use conflicts.


              Land use practices and patterns, so often at the root of nonpoint source
Conclusions   pollution problems, have been among the most difficult barriers for
              states to overcome in dealing with nonpoint source pollution. Resolving
              these problems often requires developing technical solutions such as *
              improved best management practices. Perhaps even more challenging,
              however, is the fact that solutions require a reorientation of basic values
              that have often placed private property rights above other considera-
              tions-such as the unintended water quality impacts of alternative land
              uses.

              Political sensitivity over land use remains a formidable barrier to
              dealing with the nonpoint source problem. However, an increased open-
              ness has emerged at all levels of government to confront the issue as
              society has become increasingly aware of the extent of the nonpoint



              Page 41                                   GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
chaptera                                                                  .
Addressing Nonpoht Source Pollution by
Coping With Sensitive Land Use Issues




source problem. Our review has identified a number of innovative pro-
grams and activities to address the problem, particularly at the state
and local level.

These activities vary from one type of nonpoint source pollution
problem to another, but they have at least two important traits in
common. First, as illustrated in the discussions concerning agriculture,
urban runoff, and resource extraction, it is both less expensive and
politically more acceptable to build in appropriate land use controls as
development takes place rather than after it has already occurred.
Second, the public is much more likely to support such measures when
they have better information about the risks that the problem poses to
their health and environment. As we elaborate in the following chapter,
we believe that short of imposing its own federal land use regulatory
program, EPA can help state and local land use control efforts by more
effectively identifying and publicizing the nature and extent of nonpoint
source pollution problems, and by developing the standards and other
technical information state and local regulators need to apply controls.




Page 42                                  GAO/RCEDQl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
Chapter 4 *

StrengtheningEPA’s Efforts to Control
Nonpoint SourcePollution s

               EPAcannot be expected to solve the nonpoint source pollution problem
               alone, given the magnitude and diffuse nature of the problem. As pre-
               vious chapters have noted, resolving this problem will depend on other
               federal agencies as well as EPA.State and local government and indi-
               vidual landowners also will have a significant role, particularly where
               land use issues are involved.

               Still, as the nation’s lead environmental organization for implementing
               the Clean Water Act, EPAis in a singular position to assume a principal
               role in coping with the problem. EPAacknowledges this responsibility in
               its Nonpoint Sources: Agenda for the Future, published in January 1989.
               That document presents an ambitious framework for EPA’Sefforts to
               deal with nonpoint source pollution for fiscal years 1989 through 1993.
               EPAdeclared that its agenda’s goal is to provide strong leadership for the
               national nonpoint pollution control program and help states and local
               governments overcome barriers to successful implementation of
               nonpoint source measures.

               Nevertheless, we believe EPA’Sagenda will remain largely unfulfilled if
               the agency remains on its present course. Resource constraints are an
               underlying problem, as they are in many environmental programs. How-
               ever, in the case of nonpoint source pollution, the problem may reflect
               inappropriate funding priorities as well as shortages in absolute terms.
               EPA’Sbudgetary priorities are overwhelmingly oriented toward control-
               ling point sources of pollution despite the fact that (1) the agency identi-
               fies nonpoint source pollution as the primary cause of the nation’s
               remaining water quality problems and (2) its own studies show that the
               comparative risks posed by nonpoint source pollution are at least as
               high (and are often higher) than the risks posed by point sources. We
               believe this imbalance needs to be addressed if many of the corrective
               actions discussed in this chapter are to be implemented.

               In this chapter, we discuss EPA’Splans for dealing with the key problems
               identified in this report, the problems likely to inhibit these efforts from
               succeeding, and our recommendations for developing an EPAagenda for
               the 1990s that will more effectively address nonpoint source pollution.




               Page 43                                  GAO/WED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                                                                                ,

                           Chapter 4
                           Stragtbening EPA’s Efforta to Control
                           Nonpoint Source Pollution




                           Policies of federal programs in pursuit of their primary missions conflict
Resolving Conflicts        with water pollution control goals and are a major barrier to controlling
Ektween Federal            nonpoint source pollution. We noted that the problem was of particular
Agencies’ Policies and     concern with USDA'Scommodities programs because agriculture is the
                           primary contributor to the nation’s nonpoint source pollution problems.
Water Quality Goals
                           EPAacknowledges the problem in its Nonpoint Sources: Agenda for the
                           Future but indicates that (1) the Water Quality Act provides states with
                           the authority to help alleviate this problem through its “federal consis-
                           tency provision” and (2) EPAis improving its coordination at the federal
                           level with agencies whose activities affect water quality. Nevertheless,
                           we found that several states in EPA'SRegions 3 and 10 do not believe the
                           federal consistency provision can realistically deal with the major water
                           quality problems posed by federal activities, Moreover, while EPAhas
                           made some progress in coordinating with USDA,the problems posed by
                           conflicting federal agency policies remains a formidable one for state
                           nonpoint source pollution programs.


Federal Consistency        EPA'Sagenda points out that the federal consistency provision is a key
                           tool for resolving conflicts between federal programs and state nonpoint
Reviews Not a Serious      source control activities. This provision is intended to help the states
Option for States in       influence federal policies, projects, and activities that conflict with the
Resolving Conflicts With   policies, standards, and activities in their nonpoint source management
Federal Agencies           programs. If the state determines that a proposed federal policy,
                           activity or project is not “consistent” with its management program, the
                           federal agency must accommodate the state’s concerns or explain in a
                           timely manner why it cannot do so.

                           However, state officials in EPA'SRegion 10 indicated that the consistency
                           review process was of little use to them at this point. They noted that
                           states have only just begun to implement their nonpoint source pro-
                           grams and that they do not wish to confront federal agencies. State offi-
                           cials in EPA'SRegions 3 and 10 questioned whether individual states
                           could effectively challenge the policies of major federal programs (e.g.,
                           USDA'Scommodity programs). Instead, the provisions may be useful only
                           for questioning individual federal projects in a single watershed (i.e., the
                           building of a new military base in an environmentally sensitive area).
                           They maintained that broader issues are better handled by EPAat a
                           national level.




                           Page 44     ’                           GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                            Chapter 4
                            Stmngthedng EPA’s Efforts to Control
                            Nonpoint Source Pollution




                            The Chief of EPA'SNonpoint Source Control Branch acknowledged to us
                            that the consistency provision in the Water Quality Act is somewhat lim-
                            ited in that it does not provide the states with a veto power over federal
                            activities. He noted that the provision, in effect, acts as an informational
                            requirement and basis for state-federal negotiation rather than a regula-
                            tory tool.


Improving EPA’s             EPA'Sagenda identifies the importance of EPA'Srole in developing a
Coordination With Federal   stronger partnership with other federal agencies and in ensuring that
                            federal regulatory requirements are imposed in a way that aids states in
Agencies Affecting Water    implementing their nonpoint source control programs. EPAhas made
Quality                     some progress in this respect with USDA-the agency whose activities
                            probably have the greatest impact on water quality. For example, the
                            Chief of EPA’SNonpoint Source Control Branch noted that EPAhas been
                            working with USDAagencies to ensure better coordination between the
                            states’ 319 programs and USDAwater quality projects. State water
                            quality managers are encouraged to propose IJSDAprojects that will
                            address state nonpoint source problems. In addition, EPAhas developed
                            personnel-sharing arrangements with some USDAagencies. Most EPA
                            regions have had their single nonpoint source coordinator augmented by
                            experienced Soil and Conservation Service staff members. The Forest
                            Service has also provided a staff member in one EPAregion. EPAofficials
                            have told us that these additional staff members have been able to pro-
                            vide program insights and have developed excellent nonpoint source
                            materials.

                            While this effort helps to improve EPA-USDAcoordination, EPAneeds to
                            encourage greater USDAconsideration of nonpoint source pollution
                            impacts in its policy development. To some extent, USDAhas begun to
                            address these issues through its Water Quality Initiative. However, as
                            noted in chapter 2, it will take some time before the Department’s initia-
                            tive can resolve the fundamental water quality problems created by its
                            programs. EPAofficials have emphasized this point in our interviews and
                            have acknowledged that they need to oversee USDA’Sperformance and
                            ensure that USDA’SWater Quality Initiative has its intended effect.

                            Furthermore, while progress with USDAis important, it is only 1 of
                            approximately 31 federal agencies with responsibilities for water-
                            related activities. Some of these agencies’ activities, such as highway
                            projects sponsored by the Department of Transportation, also pose sig-
                            nificant nonpoint source pollution problems. To deal with the federal
                            establishment as a whole, EPAhas led an intergovernmental nonpoint


                            Page 45                                 GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                         Chapter 4                                                                     l
                         Strengthening EPA3 Ef’fortrr to Control
                         Nonpoint S&me Pollution




                         source pollution task force that has brought together numerous agency
                         officials to discuss nonpoint source conflicts and opportunities for inter-
                         agency cooperation. However, the task force has not met since October
                         1988 because EPAwants to focus on a few key agencies. Also, the Chief
                         of EPA’SNonpoint Source Control Branch stated that resource con-
                         straints have prevented the agency from pursuing the problem beyond
                         the limited efforts underway to deal mainly with agriculture-related
                         nonpoint source pollution. He noted that the limited EPAnonpoint pollu-
                         tion staff has had to devote most of its resources to developing program
                         guidance and reviewing state assessments and management plans and
                         section 3 19 grant proposals.


                         As indicated in chapter 2, a variety of federal and state officials have
Developing Nonpoint      told us that they lack the technical “criteria” information needed to
Source Pollution         develop water quality standards. Such criteria are needed to identify at
Criteria and Standards   what concentration a pollutant becomes a problem and to measure the
                         effectiveness of best management practices in controlling nonpoint
                         source pollution.

                         The need for additional criteria has been recognized by EPA.Nonpoint
                         Sources: Agenda for the Future acknowledges EPA’Sresponsibility in this
                         area, noting, for example, that “EPA needs to concentrate on providing
                         states with sound information that allows them to develop and apply
                         these new criteria.” When asked why they were only now beginning to
                         be developed, a Section Chief in EPA’SCriteria and Standards Division
                         told us that it was a matter of setting priorities. He explained that the
                         Clean Water Act’s initial requirements were oriented to controlling
                         chemical pollutants from point sources, and, therefore, this is where the
                         agency placed its initial emphasis. The next major effort was to get stan-
                         dards in place to control toxic pollutants. The last and current priority is
                         to develop criteria for establishing water quality standards that better
                         measure the impact of nonpoint source pollution.

                         An environmental scientist who formerly worked in EPA’SCriteria and
                         Standards Division added that it has taken considerable time to develop
                         nonpoint source criteria and standards because an approach different
                         from the one used for point sources is required. Point sources, for
                         example, were easily identifiable pollution sources that were amenable
                         to control through uniform limitations on their discharges. Additionally,
                         the effectiveness of such controls could be easily measured; a limited
                         number of entities were involved; and the cost of control measures was
                         easily transferable to the public. In the nonpoint arena, he said, there


                         Page 46                                   GAO/ItCEDBl-10   Nonpoint Source Pollution
                         Chaptm 4
                         Stcengwh;enlngEPA'sEf'fortst~Control
                         Nonpoint Source Pollution




                         are innumerable sources that are not easily identifiable; the pollution is
                         not as amenable to uniform control criteria; and the cost of control will
                         not be easily transferable to the public.

                         Compounding these problems are continuing budgetary constraints and
                         competing demands. The Chief of EPA'SMonitoring Branch in its Assess-
                         ment and Watershed Protection Division noted, for example, that EPAis
                         trying to help states and agencies establish appropriate standards for
                         nonpoint source pollution as well as monitoring techniques, but EPAhas
                         limited resources to do all the needed work. Faced with such constraints,
                         the agency has not been able to do all it would have liked in developing
                         monitoring techniques and nonpoint source criteria.


                         EPAalso acknowledges the importance of developing better information
Monitoring Needed to     on both the extent of the nonpoint source problem and the effectiveness
Identify the Extent of   of actions needed to correct the problem. Without information on the
Pollution and            effectiveness of corrective actions, we believe it is difficult for federal
                         agencies to determine whether such actions are having their intended
Effectiveness of         effect or whether revised strategies are needed. Without information on
Corrective Actions       the extent of the problem, it is also difficult to convince people of the
                         seriousness of the nonpoint source problems and actions needed to cor-
                         rect them.

                         EPA'SNonpoint Sources: Agenda for the Future acknowledges that a key
                         part of the problem is the need for EPAto develop better monitoring
                         techniques, or “protocols,” for use by the states. These protocols would
                         be specifically designed to evaluate nonpoint source impacts on the envi-
                         ronment. This report and other EPAdocuments note that, not surpris-
                         ingly, most of the monitoring performed has focused on point source
                         data. EPA'S1988 National Water Quality Inventory, for example, notes
                         that monitoring has historically been oriented towards detecting chem-
                         ical pollutants from point sources by periodic samples at fixed stations.
                         The Inventory notes that nonpoint source monitoring is more complex
                         and costly because it is often episodic and unpredictable, varying from
                         long-term, low-level inputs to high-level concentrated pulses. As noted
                         above, an EPAofficial told us that limited resources are preventing EPA'S
                         Monitoring Branch from fully developing nonpoint source monitoring
                         techniques.

                         Even though better criteria and monitoring information can help the
                         nonpoint source control effort, EPAofficials pointed out that control
                         measures can and should be implemented before this information is


                         Page 47                                 GAO/RCED@l-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                         Chapter 4
                         Sbxmgtheniug EPA’s J3fforts to Control
                         Nonpoint Source Pollution




                         fully developed. This is especially important because it is easier to pre-
                         vent nonpoint source pollution than it is to clean it up. Therefore, they
                         said they will emphasize the implementation of best management prac-
                         tices as much as possible. But without statutory authority to require
                         such practices, this approach will take time.


                         To persuade the public to support controversial land use decisions and
Public Education         make other sacrifices, a clearer connection must be made between indi-
Efforts Need to Be       vidual activities, land use practices, and local water quality. However,
Expanded                 while there are some notable exceptions, a lack of public understanding
                         about the problem has been a major obstacle to dealing with nonpoint
                         source pollution.

                         EPAplans to persuade the public about the need for action on nonpoint
                         source pollution by encouraging states and local governments to adopt
                         targeted watershed management approaches for specific rivers, streams,
                         and drainage basins. On the basis of the experiences of special initia-
                         tives-the Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, the Clean Lakes Program,
                         and the National Estuary Program-EPA has found that it is much easier
                         to build public consensus for action when people feel they are protecting
                         a water resource that is of particular value to them.

                         Nevertheless, the agency recognizes that a broader public education
                         effort would be needed to deal with nonpoint source pollution nation-
                         wide as opposed to solving the problem of a selected watershed. Its
                         Nonpoint Sources: Agenda for the Future calls for the development of a
                         detailed workplan for a program to help states and local governments
                         develop public awareness programs. Among other things, it calls for EPA
                         to

                     . identify and use other federal agencies’ data bases/mapping capabili-
                       ties/programs to assist EPAin developing materials (brochures, videos,
                       public service announcements) that would describe the problem in eve-
                       ryday language;
                     . enlist other federal programs to communicate with specific audiences;
                     . enlist the cooperation of private sector parties involved in activities that
                       prevent/contribute to nonpoint source pollution (i.e., agrichemical
                       associations, major trade associations, industry); and
                     . develop a children’s education program to train teachers and provide
                       educational materials in liaison with the federal Department of Educa-
                       tion and the states.



                         Page 48                                  GAO/RCED-91.10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                           Strengthew   EPA’e Effort8 to Control
                           Nonpdut Source Pollution




                           Officials in EPA’SNonpoint Source Control Branch stated that public edu-
                           cation is one of the highest priorities in their nonpoint source control
                           efforts. They cited several examples of public awareness efforts
                           including a newsletter, national posters, and an information clearing-
                           house. One official admitted, however, that only a small portion of the
                           agenda had been implemented and much more needed to be done. For
                           example, he noted that nothing has been done to enlist the help of pri-
                           vate sector organizations or to develop an educational program. He cited
                           resource constraints as the primary problem that has thus far inhibited
                           EPA’Sefforts to increase public awareness about nonpoint source
                           pollution.


                           As is evident from the discussion above, the major underlying barrier
Low Funding Priority       inhibiting EPA’Snonpoint source control efforts is the low level of
for Nonpoint Source        funding afforded nonpoint source pollution control, In an era of con-
Pollution                  strained budgetary resources, this problem is not unique to nonpoint
                           source pollution- it is a problem shared by nearly all environmental
                           programs. However, such constraints make it all the more important
                           that the environmental risks posed by alternative pollution problems be
                           considered in funding decisions. We acknowledge that risk should not be
                           the only factor considered in allocating EPA’Slimited resources. For
                           example, EPA’Srole in controlling point source pollution is inherently
                           larger than it is in controlling nonpoint source pollution, and, therefore,
                           its financial commitment to control of point source pollution is higher.
                           Additionally, the resources needed to control nonpoint source pollution
                           will need to come primarily from states and local communities. How-
                           ever, EPAhas not allocated the amounts required to meet the most basic
                           elements of its nonpoint source pollution agenda, such as coordination
                           with other federal agencies. As discussed in this section, EPA’Sown anal-
                           yses suggest that this situation inadequately reflects the risk the
                           problem poses. Specifically:

                       l   EPA’Scomparative risk study shows that nonpoint sources pose a more
                           serious risk to the natural ecosystems than point source discharges.
                       l   EPA’Sbudget priorities in water pollution control are, nevertheless, ori-
                         ented overwhelmingly toward point source pollution problems.
                       . EPAmaintains that states have flexibility to support nonpoint source
                         pollution control activities through various supplemental funding
                         sources, even though most of these sources are, in fact, largely unavail-
                         able for nonpoint source funding.




                           Page 49                                 GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                                                                                                  ,
                              cbpter4
                              Stretiening  EPA’s Efforta to Control
                              Nonpoint Source Pollution




                                                                                    :
EPA Studies Show              In an August 1989 report assessingthe comparative risks posed by
Nonpoint Source Pollution     alternative pollution problems, EPAfound that risks posed by nonpoint
                              source pollution are generally more serious than those posed by pollu-
PosesSerious Health and       tion discharges from point s0urces.l The study, based on analyses by 3
Environmental Risks           of EPA’Sregions in conjunction with the agency’s Office of Policy, Plan-
                              ning, and Evaluation, began with a list of 18 to 24 of the most important
                              environmental problems facing each region. Each region then analyzed
                              and ranked each problem in terms of its relative health and ecological
                              risk.

                              The results of the assessment should be interpreted with caution since
                              the risk posed by alternative problems cannot be quantified with preci-
                              sion Nevertheless, the study’s conclusions about the relative importance
                              of nonpoint source pollution compared with point source pollution
                              showed the following:

                            . Health risk. Point sources and nonpoint sources of water pollution
                              appear to pose roughly comparable risks, with point source discharges
                              indicated as a higher health risk in some instances and nonpoint source
                              discharges as higher in other instances. Among the key health risks
                              associated with nonpoint source pollution was bacteriological contami-
                              nation of shellfish.
                            . Ecological risk. Nonpoint source pollution was clearly identified as a
                              more serious problem by two of the three regions and a comparable risk
                              by the third region. Regions cited data indicating that nonpoint sources
                              degrade more water bodies than point sources. The study indicated that
                              ecological risks from specific types of nonpoint source pollution vary
                              considerably by region. For example, it noted that the effects from silvi-
                              culture pollution were higher in the Northwest (Region 10) than in the
                              Mid-Atlantic area (Region 3) but that the reverse was true for nonpoint
                              source effects from mining.

                              The study identifies a number of reasons why such a discrepancy may
                              exist. It notes, for example, that resource levels tend to be more closely
                              aligned with how serious EPAperceived the problem to be in the past,
                              rather than with the risks they pose now. Reflecting the political reali-
                              ties within which federal agencies must operate, it also notes that the
                              agency’s priorities tend “to align more closely with public opinion and
                              its embodiment in legal mandates than with risk.” The Director of EPA’S
                              Office of Regulations and Standards substantiated this observation,
                              explaining that, among other factors, the agency’s budgetary priorities

                              lC!omparing Risks and Setting Environmental Priorities (Washington, DC.: EPA, Aug. 1989).



                              Page SO                                             GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source. Pollution
                              chapter 4
                              Strengthedug EPA’s Efforts to Cvntrol
                              Nonpoint Source Pollution




                              reflect statutory mandates that place greater emphasis on point source
                              control programs rather than on its nonpoint source programs.


EPA Devotes Water             In commenting on the funding priority devoted by the three regions to
                              these and other pollution problems, the EPA study noted that “The
Quality Funds Primarily       Regional rankings sometimes contrast very sharply with the relative
for Point Source Activities   levels of Regional resources devoted to these different problem areas,”
                              It cited the imbalance between point and nonpoint sources of pollution
                              as an example, noting that

                              “In the water quality area, nonpoint sources and habitat modification cause the
                              greatest problems. Yet the bulk of program resources are devoted to municipal and
                              industrial point sources . . . .”

                              We found these observations to be consistent with the overall budgetary
                              picture regarding EPA’S funding of nonpoint source control activities.
                              Although nonpoint sources of pollution are recognized as the leading
                              reasons for polluted waterbodies, EPA continues to spend the vast pro-
                              portion of its water pollution control funds on point source pollution.
                              For example, less than 6 percent of fiscal year 1990 funding for the
                              agency’s point source- and nonpoint source-related water pollution con-
                              trol activities were devoted to nonpoint-related activities2 Moreover, as
                              noted in table 4.1, EPA has requested only $22 million out of the $400
                              million authorized by the Water Quality Act for funding under section
                              319 for the period of fiscal years 1988 through 1991. As also noted in
                              table 4.1, EPA’S first request for section 319 funding was in fiscal year
                              1990, in which it requested $7 million and the Congress appropriated
                              $38.9 million.




                              2Basedon estimatesprovided by EPAofficials. The funds included both EPAsalariesand expenses
                              and federal grants to statesand local governments.



                              Page 6 1                                         GAO/RCED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                                                                                                                                    .
                                          Chapter 4
                                          Strengthening EPA’s Efforta to Control
                                          Nonpoint Source Pollution




Table 4.1: Funding Under Section 319 of
the Water Quality Act                     Dollars in millions
                                          Fiscal year                                       Authorized            Requested         Appropriated
                                          1988                                                        $70                    $0                   $0
                                          1989                                                        100                     0                    0
                                          1990                                                        100                     7”                38.9
                                          1991--                                                      130                    15                        b

                                          Total                                                     $400                   $22
                                          *In fiscal year 1990, the President’s budget requested $7 million under another section of the act for the
                                          states to implement their management plans under section 319.

                                          bAs of Sept. 1990, fiscal year 1991 funds for EPA had not been appropriated.




Other Sourcesof Funding                   EPAofficials have explained their limited funding requests for the
Cited by EPA May Not Be                   nonpoint source program by noting that sufficient funds were available
                                          under other sections of the act to fulfill section 319’s requirements for
Available for Nonpoint                    developing nonpoint source pollution assessments and management pro-
Source Control Activities                 grams. For example, in June 1989 testimony before the Subcommittee on
                                          Environmental Protection, Senate Committee on Environment and
                                          Public Works, EPA’SActing Assistant Administrator for Water stated
                                          that nonpoint source funding was allowable under the new State
                                          Revolving Loan Fund program. EPAis authorized to award grants to the
                                          states to capitalize their revolving funds to provide loans but not grants
                                          for the construction of wastewater treatment plants. Under that pro-
                                          gram, EPAmaintained, states could structure their loan programs to fund
                                          nonpoint source controls and to finance implementation of the states’
                                          management programs3

                                          While these funds are nominally available to implement management
                                          plans, information from both EPAand the states we visited indicates that
                                          the funds will generally be needed by local communities for the con-
                                          struction or modification of wastewater treatment plants. In its recent
                                          nonpoint source annual report to the Congress, for example, EPAnoted
                                          that states were unlikely to use such discretionary authority for
                                          nonpoint source management programs “largely because of the high pri-
                                          ority accorded to construction of publicly owned treatment works.”
                                          Indeed, according to EPA'S1988 Needs Survey Report to Congress, the
                                          capital investment or costs necessary to meet the nation’s municipal
                                          wastewater treatment requirements under the Clean Water Act will
                                          exceed $83 billion for the design year (2008) population. State and local

                                          3State revolving funds will replace funding under EPA’s Construction Grants program, which will not
                                          be funded after fiscal year 1990.



                                          Page 62                                                 GAO/RCRDBl-10 Nonpoiut Source Pollution
            .
        \
                Chapter 4
   $8           Strengthening EPA’s Efforte to Control
                Nonpoint Source Pollution




                officials have expressed concern over whether state revolving loan
                funds will be sufficient to replace the existing construction grants.

                Overall, most of the states in our review reported that construction
                grant allotments and the revolving funds will be largely unavailable to
                fund nonpoint source control activities because these funds will have to
                be devoted to construction of wastewater treatment plants.


                The magnitude and diversity of nonpoint source pollution make it par-
Conclusions     ticularly difficult to control. Unless the problem is addressed, however,
                little progress will be made in attaining the nation’s water quality goals.

                This report has identified a number of problems at the federal level that
                inhibit state and local efforts to deal with nonpoint pollution. In certain
                instances, federal policies and activities act as unintended barriers to
                state and local efforts to deal with the problem. Removal of these bar-
                riers (e.g., reducing the incentives in USDA crop subsidy programs that
                encourage agrichemical use) can go a long way toward helping to resolve
                the problem. In other cases, EPA and other agencies may be missing
                opportunities to play a constructive role in helping states advance their
                nonpoint source pollution control efforts. Such cases involve assistance
                in resolving data deficiencies and in developing necessary pollution
                standards.

                As the nation’s environmental organization with primary responsibility
                for implementing the Clean Water Act, EPAshould be taking a leading
                role in coping with nonpoint source pollution by working with other fed-
                eral agencies and providing state and local governments with the vital
                information they need to pursue their nonpoint source control activities.
                While the agency has published an ambitious agenda to accomplish this
                objective, that agenda stands little chance of being fulfilled. Resource
                constraints are an underlying problem, as they are in many environ-
                mental programs. However, in the case of nonpoint source pollution, the
                agency’s own analyses suggest that its resource problems may reflect
                inappropriate funding priorities: EPA’Sbudgetary priorities are over-
                whelmingly oriented toward controlling point sources of pollution
                despite the fact that (1) the agency identifies nonpoint source pollution
                as the primary cause of the nation’s remaining water quality problems
                and (2) its own studies show that the comparative risks posed by
                nonpoint source pollution are at least as high-and in some respects are
                clearly higher-than    the risks posed by point sources.



                Page 63                                  GAO/RCRDBl-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
                         Chapter4
                         Strenethenine EPA’s Efforta to Control
                         Nonpoint Source Pollution




                         We recognize that, in the past, point source pollution may have been the
                         more significant problem and, accordingly, may have warranted sub-
                         stantially greater attention. However, point source pollution is now sub-
                         stantially regulated, and the impact of nonpoint source pollution is now
                         better understood. We also recognize that the agency cannot identify its
                         own priorities regardless of congressional mandates to address other
                         environmental problems. However, we do believe that it is incumbent
                         upon EPA,as the nation’s lead environmental organization, to do more to
                         influence its priorities, according to its assessment of relative environ-
                         mental risk, than it has in the past. We are not suggesting that EPAfunds
                         be allocated among its point and nonpoint source programs on a strictly
                         “dollar-for-dollar basis” with perceived risk. EPA’Srole in controlling
                         point source pollution is larger than it is for nonpoint source pollution
                         and, therefore, the federal financial commitment is higher. On the other
                         hand, the resources to control nonpoint source pollution need to come
                         largely from states and local communities.

                         We believe the agency needs to pursue its ongoing efforts to identify the
                         relative risks of nonpoint source pollution with other environmental
                         problems; identify funding levels that consider environmental risk; and
                         work with cognizant congressional committees to establish funding pri-
                         orities that will allow the agency to pursue a more effective nonpoint
                         source agenda for the 1990s. In this connection, we also believe that the
                         Congress should consider allocating greater water quality funding to the
                         control of nonpoint source pollution to better reflect the importance of
                         this problem to the goal of cleaning up the nation’s polluted waterways.


                         To address the nation’s water pollution problem in a manner that better
Recommendationsto        reflects the risks posed by nonpoint source pollution, we recommend
the Administrator,       that the Administrator, EPA,identify appropriate funding levels that will
EPA                      allow the agency to pursue key objectives of an effective nonpoint
                         source agenda that have heretofore made little progress under existing
                         funding constraints. Specifically, the Administrator should set funding
                         levels that will allow the agency to accelerate its efforts to

                     . resolve problems arising out of conflicts between the policies of federal
                       agencies and water quality goals;
                     l develop nonpoint source pollution criteria so the states can develop and
                       implement nonpoint source water quality standards;
                     l develop monitoring techniques to help states determine the extent of
                       their nonpoint source pollution problems and the effectiveness of correc-
                       tive actions; and


                         Page 64                                  GAO/RCED-ol-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution
        Y


    .
                         Chapter4
                         Strengthening EPA’s FXforto to Control
                         Nonpoint Source Pollution




                       . develop its program to educate the public about the health and environ-
                         mental impacts of nonpoint source pollution.


                         In light of (1) the importance of nonpoint source pollution as a primary
Matter for               cause of the nation’s remaining water quality problems and (2) the over-
Consideration by the     whelming emphasis of EPAresources devoted to point source programs,
Congress                 the Congress may wish to consider allocating EPA'swater quality
                         funding during the fiscal year 1992 budget process to provide greater
                         emphasis on controlling nonpoint source pollution.




                         Page 56                                       OAO/lWED-91-10 Nonpoint Source Pollution




                                                       ‘.,        ,,
    Appendix I                                                                                      I(
                                                                                                         \,
    Major Contributors to This Report


                              Peter F. Guerrero, Associate Director, (202) 262-0600
    Resources,                Robert S. Procaccini, Assistant Director
    Community, and            Steven L. Elstein, Assistant Director
    Economic                  Ronald G. Morgan, Senior Evaluator
    Development Division,
    Washington, D.C.

                              Charles D. Mosher, Evaluator-in-Charge
    Seattle Regional Office   Elizabeth L. Reid, Senior Evaluator
                              James D. Miller, Staff Evaluator
                              Cheryl A. Williams, Staff Evaluator




                 Y




/   (029452)                  Page66                                   GAO/lUXD-Sl-10NonpoiutSourcePollution
..~-   ----   -   _.--I-.-~--.-____