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States Using Some Enforcement Mechanisms to Control Polluted Runoff

June 2000

States struggling to accomplish water quality goals required by the Clean Water Act are gradually beginning to develop enforceable mechanisms to control nonpoint source pollution — the polluted runoff from farms, forests, and urban areas that causes problems like the famous outbreaks of lethal Pfiesteria bacteria in the Chesapeake Bay. In Putting the Pieces Together: State Nonpoint Source Enforceable Mechanisms in Context, ELI offers important guidance for states that want to coordinate various enforceable mechanisms with more traditional assistance approaches to create a more effective nonpoint source pollution programs.

“Nonpoint source pollution is perhaps our biggest water quality problem, and it remains one of our greatest problems of environmental governance,” said Jim McElfish, senior attorney and co-author of the new report. “It will continue to be a problem until we address nonpoint source pollution with the same seriousness with which we addressed industrial and sewage discharges beginning with the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972.”

Two previous ELI reports, Almanac of Enforceable State Laws to Control Nonpoint Source Water Pollution and Enforceable State Mechanisms for the Control of Nonpoint Source Water Pollution, identified the types of enforcement mechanisms available to the states and described their legal advantages and limitations. This new report builds upon them and presents case studies of eight states — Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin — to show how they are using enforceable mechanisms to supplement the more traditional approach of encouraging voluntary action and providing financial and technical assistance.

The experiences of the states examined in this study show that:

  • enforcement is already a small part of the states’ nonpoint source control strategies;
  • enforcement can be linked to operating requirements;
  • cost-sharing and other assistance remain important for agricultural nonpoint source control programs;
  • geographic targeting of specific waterways and watersheds is a significant feature of state programs; and
  • enforcement tools need to be easier to use.

“Enforcement mechanisms for controlling nonpoint source water pollution are here to stay,” McElfish said. “The current challenges are deciding how to integrate enforceable mechanisms into the broad menu of assistance-oriented approaches, determining when enforcement is appropriate, and structuring a system that can act effectively when enforcement is invoked.”

Print copies of Putting the Pieces Together: State Nonpoint Source Enforceable Mechanisms in Context can be downloaded for free or ordered by calling (800) 433-5120 or sending an email to orders@eli.org. For press copies, please contact pressrequest@eli.org.