The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the federal law that sets the legal standards for water quality in navigable waters, streams, and wetlands across the country. Under the CWA manufacturing facilities and other entities which discharge pollutants into waterways must obtain a permit to do so. Those permits are controlled by the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). The individual states oversee the allocation of most permits allocated through the NPDES program. In Louisiana, these permits are administered through the Louisiana Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (LPDES).
The amount of a contaminant that a facility may release into a water body is based on an estimate of the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for that water body. The TMDL calculation takes into consideration attributes of the water body and is the calculated total amount of a pollutant that the lake, stream or river can absorb without exceeding the limit on that pollutant as set by the Clean Water Act.
There are several important points to remember about water quality in your community. First, not every water body is regulated for all discharges. Also, surface water pollution can result from both “point sources” and “non-point sources” of contamination. Point sources are just what the name implies – specific, easy-to-identify sources of direct discharge or entry into the water. These point sources include pipes or other direct inputs of pollutants from industrial facilities. By contrast, non-point source pollution does not have a specific, narrow point of entry into the water body. A good example of non-point source water pollution is that which can occur during heavy rain storms when the excess rainfall is not absorbed by the land, but “runs-off” into surface water bodies. This run-off may contain a wide range of pollutants, including chemical fertilizers, pesticides, residue from roadways and construction sites, and organic wastes from sewage systems and livestock facilities. Non-point source pollution is difficult to control and takes everyone working together to consider how our actions may introduce pollution into water bodies.
It’s important that we properly dispose of all materials that could be picked up by rain water flowing into storm drains. Remember that storm drains are not connected to wastewater treatment plants, so the water and materials they receive remain untreated. Therefore, any trash, oil, pesticides, and debris that enters the storm drain from the street eventually makes its way into our lakes, rivers, and bayous.
What Can I Do to Protect Surface Water?
Given the large number of waterbodies in Louisiana, state and local government authorities cannot monitor all nearby activities all of the time. Community groups and individuals can be a valuable source of help. Volunteer water monitoring is a great way to keep an eye on water quality in your area. By visually monitoring the water, you may be able to detect important changes in water flow, erosion of banks, water clarity, presence of animals and plant life in and around the water, and more. By being aware of the condition of the water body, you will be able to notice when changes occur or when something happens, like an illegal discharge or trash dump.
To get started as a volunteer water monitor, check out EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed program. This program includes a database of over 2600 watershed groups in the country. There may be a group already established in your area. You can also contact LDEQ or LEAN to see if there is a group near you. If there is not an established group, consider starting one yourself! The Adopt Your Watershed webpage contains a Watershed Stewardship Toolkit to help you get started. Visit water.epa.gov and click on “Adopt Your Watershed” near the bottom of the page.
EPA’s Adopt Your Watershed program includes volunteer opportunities where you can be a water quality monitor, install storm drain markers, organize trash cleanups, or educate your community about stormwater. Get involved today! www.water.epa.gov
The Louisiana Citizens’ Guide To Environmental Engagement