Nonpoint Source Pollution

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November 2009
Clearly, throwing trash overboard is pollution. However, less obvious, but just as devastating and possibly more expansive ways to pollute exist. This hidden culprit is called Non Point Source Pollution or NPS and it has many starting points.

It tends to occur gradually and quietly. Initially, the danger escapes perception. NPS pollution originates from various sources including run-off from the surface of pavements and lawns, secondhand sources like car exhaust and lawn fertilizer, and even boat hulls, which on a near daily basis, are in direct contact with water. It may first appear as a bit of oil spilled in the driveway, waste from the annual lawn fertilization, debris from the cat litter box, or cleaning solutions that flush down household drains. Without even realizing it, we all contribute daily to NPS. As rain falls and snow melts, a rush of water moves over rooftops, paved streets, sidewalks, parking lots, soil, lawns, and storm drains carrying with it all sorts of synthetic pollutants. These pollutants eventually end up in our waters: oceans, lakes, rivers, wetlands, reservoirs, and ground water. The cumulative results are deadly. Since NPS pollution doesn't come from one specific source at one specific location-such as the Exxon Valdez oil spill, or a factory dumping industrial waste directly into a river-NPS is difficult to pinpoint and regulate. Moreover, it is a form of pollution that has become so pervasive that the Environmental Protection Agency has labeled it the primary source of water pollution in America.

Household Pollutants - One Cause for Concern

One must understand that the insecticides sprayed on those annoying bugs today end up in the ocean in a few days, weeks, or months' time. The same holds true for plastic waste, such as a bag that flew out a car window, which will make its way toward a storm drain, and then onward to the water system where a turtle or cormorant will mistake it for food. Think about the improperly disposed motor oil that each year is dumped into storm drains or roadside ditches. That annual disposal is equal to 14 Exxon Valdez spills (in the actual Exxon Valdez spill, 10.8 million gallons of crude oil were dumped into our ocean environment). Often, we believe that responsible action involves carefully hosing that dirty, sudsy, phosphate-ridden water that just washed the family car with into the gutter, or lovingly tending to the grass and gardens around our homes with nitrogen-rich fertilizers ("good for the plants," the sales associate tells us!) that-also via storm drains-wind up in our oceans. While all living beings require phosphates and nitrogen, an excess of both or either in our water system gives rise to an explosive growth of algae, also known as algae blooms, which negatively impact both freshwater and marine environments. When this overpopulation of algae dies, its decomposition consumes massive amounts of oxygen, which in turn affects fish, seagrass beds, and coral habitats, sometimes fatally, while deteriorating overall water quality. Algae blooms can also negatively impact tourism and seafood revenues by killing off fish and creating unpleasant settings.

Much Can Be Done

Many of our seemingly small and innocuous actions on land can result in devastation at sea. Sailors and boaters who enjoy oceans and waterways can lead by example by reducing each individual's impact upon the earth and, by extension, upon our local marine environments. Fortunately, many numerous commonsense steps exist that allow individuals to leave a legacy of ocean protection and restoration to benefit our fish, and ourselves. It all starts with conscious awareness of products and solutions, their proper use, and how to decrease runoff.

Take Action

You can make a difference. Follow these steps to create a positive future for the ocean.

Take Action

 

  • Avoid using pesticides and chemical fertilizers: favor instead organic compost, mulch or manure, which are free of pollutants
  • Use native plants for landscaping as these require less water and fewer pesticides
  • Situate sprinklers so the water lands only on the lawn, not the driveway, street, or sidewalk
  • Dispose of household hazardous materials-antifreeze, paint, oil, etc.-properly, NEVER down the storm drain as the chemicals will end up in a water system.
  • Let mowed grass clippings remain on the lawn where they can serve as a source of nutrients and reduce the need for fertilizer, and reduce erosion that, in turn, slows runoff
  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle in order to limit the amount of items entering our trash cycle
  • Switch to low-phosphate cleaning supplies
  • Always pick up after your dog
  • Take expired medicines either to a pharmacy or hazardous waste source for proper disposal