Although everyone recognizes that water quality needs to be addressed, it can be hard to determine exactly where the pollution is coming from and who should pay for the cleanup. Regulations based on the best science can help to determine how much reduction is needed by whom. An increasing number of jurisdictions are setting limits on the total amount of nutrients allowed in their watersheds in a given time period. Known as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL), these rules mean that everyone—businesses, farmers and municipalities—must meet their own limits.
There are many well-documented ways to reduce water pollution. All these measures require changes in behavior, and they all cost money. However, some are much more expensive than others. Finding the funding to make necessary changes is difficult.
“Point sources,” or pollution sources that are at the “end of the pipe,” include industries and wastewater treatment plants. They are easy to identify as sources, but complying with their permit limits often involves investing in new equipment and technology that is very expensive. And, since populations and economic growth continue to increase, their levels of nutrients will continue to rise even after their costly investments are made.
Non-point sources of water pollution do not contribute their loads via a pipe but by having it run-off fields or lawns or into the ground. Since they are so numerous and the pollution comes in many different ways, it is harder to measure and enforce. Just as with point sources, there are known techniques and practices that farmers can adopt to reduce the amount of nutrients they contribute to the waterways. The practices that enable farms to reduce pollution are by no means free. Still, compared to point sources, the cost per pound of pollution is relatively low.