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A tale of three watersheds: U.S. EPA's contrasting approaches to agricultural nutrient pollution

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Solutions to nutrient pollution in America's most significant watersheds have eluded the Clean Water Act since its inception. Although the Act places primary responsibility on states to address agricultural runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus, the states have failed to implement effective remedies, evidenced by widespread hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, impaired waterways in Florida, and a declining fishing industry in the Chesapeake Bay. The U.S. administration's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken three very different approaches within the Mississippi, the Chesapeake, and Floridian watersheds, all aimed at pressing the states to embrace numeric water quality criteria for these pollutants. The three approaches have stimulated litigation that should help clarify the level of discretion the EPA has in deciding how to work with states in implementing nutrient reduction strategies, versus federalized water quality criteria. Further, the suits illustrate the political and cultural clashes that have produced inaction on this problem. They expose the complex institutional, stakeholder, and scientific challenges that both the U.S EPA and the states face in adopting and implementing numeric criteria for waterways. Success in actually remediating the watersheds ultimately will depend not on lawsuits compelling federal action, but on forces outside the courtroom that pressure agricultural producers and other nonpoint sources to assess their role in nutrient pollution and implement best practices that lead to measurable results. We highlight these realities by examining the issues in the three lawsuits and explaining the role of the U.S. EPA, which is caught in the middle of a clash between conservation interests and politically and culturally powerful polluter interests. WIREs Water 2015, 2:47–54. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1060 This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented Science of Water > Water Quality

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Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented
Engineering Water > Planning Water
Science of Water > Water Quality

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