EPA Announces Resources to Address Nutrient Pollution Affecting Waters

EPA Announces Resources to Address Nutrient Pollution Affecting Waters

NASA took this image from orbit in 2011. It shows an algal bloom in Lake Erie.

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released three new resources to assist the agency’s state, territorial and authorized tribal partners to address adverse effects of nutrient pollution, including freshwater harmful algal blooms (HAB). 

These resources will help EPA’s co-regulators and partners better protect recreators, aquatic life and drinking water sources from the detrimental effects of nutrient pollution. The three resources include the agency’s Final Recommended Nutrient Criteria for Lakes and Reservoirs; a web-based tool with information and tracking of HABs; and a Technical Support Document to aid implementation of certain HABs criteria.

“EPA’s new resources advance the agency’s commitment to providing innovative, science-based and data-informed tools to support our partners’ efforts to reduce nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms, and to empower the public to stay informed of their health risks,” says EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “With stressors like climate change exacerbating the effects of excess nutrients in waterways, it’s crucial that our partners have the water quality standards and advisory programs in place that can protect our communities.”

Final Recommended Nutrient Criteria for Lakes and Reservoirs

EPA has published revised recommended ambient water quality criteria under the Clean Water Act to help address nutrient pollution in lakes and reservoirs. As the first update to EPA’s nutrient criteria in 20 years, these recommendations represent a significant advancement in the scientific understanding of the impacts of nitrogen and phosphorus in our waters. These new criteria will help protect drinking water sources, recreational uses and aquatic life in our nation’s lakes and reservoirs. The new recommendations are based on statistical stressor-response relationships developed from data collected in approximately 1,800 lakes nationwide and incorporated into national models.

The agency wants to ensure that co-regulators have the tools they need to implement their nutrient reduction priorities. The national models are designed so that states, territories and authorized tribes can also incorporate local data into the models to account for unique local conditions. EPA stands ready to assist its partners in using the new models through the agency’s Nutrient Scientific Technical Exchange Partnership & Support (N-STEPS) program. States, territories and authorized tribes can consider adopting the recommended criteria into their water quality standards but are not compelled to revise existing EPA-approved criteria or total maximum daily load (TMDL) targets.

Tracking CyanoHABs StoryMap

EPA has also published a new ArcGIS StoryMap that will allow the public to learn about and track reported cyanobacterial HABs (cyanoHABs) in freshwaters across the country. CyanoHABs can harm ecosystems and contaminate freshwaters with toxins that can lead to serious human health impacts. There is scientific consensus that the incidence of cyanoHABs has increased in the nation's freshwater systems in recent years, in part due to climate change. 

EPA’s Tracking CyanoHABs StoryMap creates a single online resource for information about cyanoHAB events across the United States. It consolidates freshwater advisory and closure information from state environmental and health agencies into user-friendly, interactive maps. In addition, the Tracking CyanoHABs StoryMap includes links to information on freshwater HABs causes and effects; several EPA tools on HABs preparedness and response; and state and local HAB resources such as the laboratories that perform analysis of water samples for cyanotoxins.

Implementation support for EPA’s recreational HABs criteria

To help states, territories and authorized tribes protect swimmers from two cyanotoxins produced by cyanoHABs, EPA has also published Final Technical Support Document: Implementing the 2019 Recommended Recreational Water Quality Criteria or Swimming Advisories for Microcystins and Cylindrospermopsin. This document explains how states, territories and authorized tribes may adopt EPA’s 2019 recommended criteria for the two cyanotoxins into their water quality standards or use the criteria in swimming advisory programs. The document also addresses implementation of the 2019 criteria recommendations through other Clean Water Act programs including identifying and listing of impaired waters, and TMDL development. 

Click here to view EPA’s final recommended lakes and reservoirs criteria document. Click here to view the final technical support document for implementing EPA’s 2019 recreational HABs criteria. Click here to view the Tracking CyanoHABs StoryMap.


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