quality problem and if it is of concern to them. For example, find out if the water quality problem
impairs recreational uses, such as fishing, swimming, or boating, or aesthetic enjoyment of the
If the source of the water quality problem is not clear, or if the source is one that cannot be
affected by changes in project participants' behavior (for example, if the source is a point source
versus agricultural runoff), there may be dissension within the community about the cause of the
problem, how best to resolve it, or the value of a NPS pollution control project. Documentation
of the problem and its source can help a community come together to support a project designed
to address a water quality problem (see next section). If, however, consensus about the existence
of a problem cannot be reached, or agencies cannot work effectively together, a project is
unlikely to be successful. In such cases, limited resources for addressing water quality problems
may be better spent on a different project or program.
If project funds are restricted to one source of nonpoint source pollutants, such as agricultural
sources, avoid choosing a watershed that contains major point sources or other nonpoint sources.
Pollutants from point sources can mask improvements in water quality brought about by
implementation of best management practices (BMPs) aimed at reducing NPS pollution, thus
making it difficult to document the benefits of a nonpoint source pollution control project. Other
approaches designed to reduce both point and nonpoint source pollutants, such as total watershed
management, can be very effective if adequate technical and financial resources are available.
Select a watershed of a size that matches the level of available funding for the project; if funds
for installing BMPs are limited, treating most or all of a small watershed (or a subwatershed
within a large watershed) will likely result in greater water quality improvements than treating a
small land area in a large watershed.
Document the Water Quality Problem
Clearly document the water quality impairment or threat, and the source(s) of the problem. For
example, a popular swimming beach at the community lake may have algal blooms (rapid
growth of algae) at certain times of year. The results are color changes, odor, and fish kills,
which impair swimming and other uses of the lake for recreation. To plan an effective approach
to this problem, the specific pollutant(s) causing the blooms must be identified and the source(s)
determined. Are nutrients causing the problem? If so, is there too much nitrogen or phosphorus?
After identifying the pollutant, find out where it is coming from. Possible sources of nutrients
include runoff from animal operations, over-application of fertilizer, septic tank drain fields,
sediments in the lake bottom, or discharges from a treatment plant or industry. The source(s) of
the water quality problem must be identified before action is taken, so available resources can be
targeted to the critical area. Trying to address a problem without knowing the source can result in
wasting limited funds and human resources and losing support for future projects.
Existing water quality and other relevant data, such as soils, geology, land use, and weather (and
assistance in interpreting such data), should be requested from appropriate agencies, such as the
state water quality agency; U.S. Geological Survey; local health department; county planning
department; and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) - Natural Resource Conservation