More Federal Dollars Needed to Upgrade U.S. Coastal Water Quality

By Cat Lazaroff

WASHINGTON, DC, September 7, 2000 (ENS) - Polluted runoff, the leading threat to coastal water quality, could be considerably reduced if the federal government provided targeted funding to help the states address the problem, argues a report released today by a coalition of environmental groups.

runoff

Runoff from farm fields can contain pesticides and fertilizers (Photo courtesy EPA)
Thousands of sources of runoff cause pollution that makes coastal waters unsafe for fishing, swimming and drinking, says the Coast Alliance, a network of more than 500 national, state and local organizations dedicated to preserving coasts and oceans. The sources of runoff can be farms or forestry operations as well as residential, commercial and industrial developments.

The alliance’s new report, "Mission Possible: State Progress Controlling Runoff Under the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program," analyzes the effects of federal funding targeted at polluted runoff.

Focusing on five case studies, the report concludes that federal funding is helphing to limit polluted runoff, but that many states need more money and better direction in using those funds.

"A relatively small amount of funding would go a long way toward ending the fish and shellfish contamination, algae blooms, 'dead zones' and beach closures that have become so common all around America's coasts," said Jacqueline Savitz, executive director of Coast Alliance.

Seattle, Washington has been seeing algae blooms during this warm summer. Because of these so called red tides, levels of toxins in area shellfish are among the highest ever, said Frank Cox, marine biotoxin coordinator for the Washington Department of Health.

Since the beginning of August, poisoned shellfish have prompted Washington state and local health authorities to ban recreational clam, oyster and mussel harvests in all of King, Skagit and San Juan counties, most of Pierce County and parts of seven other counties.

noctiluca

Noctiluca algae produced a spectacular display of color during an algae bloom off the coast of California. The white object in the photo is a ship (Photo by Peter Franks, courtesy Scripps Institution of Oceanography)
Congress is now considering reauthorization of the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA), which aims to preserve, protect, develop and, where possible, restore or enhance the resources of the U.S. coastline. The CZMA is a voluntary program that provides incentives for coastal states and territories to plan and manage their coastal resources, including those of the Great Lakes.

In 1990, the CZMA was amended to include the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program, which provides federal funding for states to control polluted runoff. Thirty-three states and territories now have approved runoff management plans, covering more than 99 percent of the nation's shoreline.

The Coastal Nonpoint Program is the first meaningful opportunity to address runoff pollution because it requires enforcement of management measures where voluntary measures fail, while emphasizing a cooperative approach among federal, state and local planners, the Coast Alliance says.

So far, Congress has failed to provide sufficient funding for the nonpoint pollution program, the Coast Alliance argues, offering only a few million dollars to be divided among all participating states.

"Protection of our coastal resources is linked to our economy and our well being," said Representative Jim Saxton, a New Jersey Republican and author of the Coastal Communities Conservation Act. "Commercial and recreational fishing, tourism, and other industries suffer from the impacts of unchecked runoff. That is why targeted funding to control polluted runoff is so critically important, and should remain a top priority for the 106th Congress."

"Mission Possible" presents, for the first time, the opinions and ideas of people working to develop Coastal Nonpoint Plans: federal representatives, state coastal program managers and citizens.

sediment

Runoff from logging and agricultural operations can send sediment flowing into rivers and lakes (Photo by Albert Dickas, University of Wisconsin-Superior, courtesy EPA)
Among the obstacles the report identifies are poor state allocations of funds and resources to combating polluted runoff. Of the five states used as case studies, none received an "A" grade for their implementation of the Coastal Nonpoint Program.

Wisconsin, Maine and California each rated a "B" grade, while New Jersey got a "C". Louisiana got a "D," demonstrating the fewest enforceable mechanisms for controlling runoff.

"The state’s poor performance to date demonstrates the need to tie federal funding to state performance to ensure the limited federal funding for this program is allocated to states where it will have the greatest benefit," says the report regarding Louisiana’s program.

But the report identifies limited funding itself as the number one problem facing states that are trying to control polluted runoff.

"Survey participants agreed unanimously that runoff pollution is the major threat to our coasts and that a lack of funding is the biggest obstacle to controlling it," said Catherine Hazlewood, the Coast Alliance’s pollution program counsel. "Given the program's merits and the states' financial needs, it would be meaningless to reauthorize the CZMA without designating funding for the Coastal Nonpoint Program."

Led by Representative Saxton and Senators Olympia Snowe, a Maine Republican, and John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, both the House and Senate are considering bills to reauthorize the CZMA and provide additional funding for the runoff program. While the Senate bill passed out of committee unanimously and is headed to the floor for a vote, the House bill is mired in anti-environmental riders that could prevent its passage during this session of Congress.

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Large livestock operations like this hog farm produce tons of runoff polluted with animal wastes (Photo by Gene Alexander, courtesy USDA)
The report includes an in-depth analysis of progress and gives grades for five states: Wisconsin, Louisiana, Maine, California and New Jersey. Summaries of all the other state programs are also provided. The analysis identifies innovative approaches to solving runoff problems as well as obstacles encountered by the states.

"Runoff is the greatest remaining source of pollution and yet it is essentially unregulated," said Savitz. "The Coastal Nonpoint Program is our best bet for controlling it and protecting America's coasts."

The study is available at: http://www.coastalliance.org/mission/download.htm