Impact of Nonpoint Source Pollution on Meeting National Water Quality Goals

Gao ID: 110256 August 30, 1979

Nonpoint pollution is caused by a group of pollutants entering the water in a diffused and diluted form, rather than those from a specific discharge point. The extent of the nationwide problem is unknown, data on its effect are inadequate, solutions are not readily available, and funding has been lacking. GAO believes that there is legitimate concern as to the effect nonpoint pollution may have on specific communities, rivers, and streams, and whether the 1983 water quality goal of fishable and swimmable water can be met in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area and the Potomac River. Legislation which requires State and local agencies to prepare areawide waste treatment and management plans does not provide funds for implementing nonpoint controls or set forth comprehensive requirements regarding their use. GAO concluded that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) 208 Planning Program was not effective because: (1) planning agencies did not adequately address statutory requirements for water quality planning; (2) water quality data, particularly for nonpoint sources, were not being obtained; and (3) local authorities lacked a commitment to continue funding water quality planning after Federal funding was exhausted. GAO reports in 1976 and 1977 found that construction of advanced waste treatment facilities was expensive, adequate planning information was not available, and in some cases, nonpoint pollution would mitigate the effectiveness of point source control facilities. The EPA Planning Program can be used to bridge the information gap, but it will expire at the end of fiscal year 1980 unless it is extended.

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