Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution and Eutrophication: A Survey of Environmental Responsibility in the Federal System and Case Study of the Chautauqua Lake Watershed, New York State

John N Haskell


This report is concerned with nutrient pollution in Chautauqua Lake from agricultural nonpoint sources (NPS) and the policies that have formed at all levels of the federal system to address this problem in public water bodies. The analysis will be helpful to a national policy audience concerned with NPS policy efficiency and effectiveness, especially with regards to agricultural sources. It will also be of special use to lake mangers and state/local policymakers who want the NPS policy problem demystified so they can make better, clearer decisions for managing their lakes, rivers and streams. For this latter audience, the paper will survey how NPS pollution has been addressed in other watersheds, what policies have been effective or ineffective, and what financial and technical support are available from federal and state administrations for watershed management.

Federal, state and local NPS policy players interact with and influence each other to produce a wide spectrum of policy solutions for impaired watersheds. Ultimately, however, federal and state policies protect only a small percentage of polluted watersheds, and local citizens and authorities are often left unsupported to bear the responsibility of pollution prevention and cleanup without the required technical expertise or financial resources. When federal executives or states fail to protect polluted watersheds, it is implicit and necessary that local authorities coordinate horizontally across municipalities or counties to centralize watershed management debates and decision-making; however, effective watershed management plans also require local authorities to initiate and sustain vertical coordination with state and federal administrations that can help provide the requisite resources.

While some state executives have expanded the coverage of their watershed management programs, this expansion has been far too limited and slow to stem the natural acceleration of NPS pollution damages. Local authorities (within affected watersheds or bordering water bodies) cannot assume, nor wait for, federal or state leadership when the problem worsens beyond a critical level. Watershed management must come from organic leadership, marshaling local, state and federal resources to begin sustainable, comprehensive remediation.


environmental policy; watershed management; environmental law; nonpoint source pollution; eutrophication; agricultural pollution; agricultural policy; environmental law and federalism

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