DEEP: Overview of Connecticut's Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program

Overview of Connecticut's Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program

What is Nonpoint Source Pollution?

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nonpoint source pollution, or “polluted runoff,” is one of the most critical problems facing the nation’s coastal waters.  Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution comes from many diffuse sources, including rain and melting snow which carry contaminants from lawns, parking lots, farm fields, and city streets into coastal waters and the rivers and streams which feed them.  NPS pollution also results from failing and inadequate septic systems that can contaminate both ground water and surface water. 

Urban runoff, the primary nonpoint source of pollution in Connecticut, can carry road sand, oil, nutrients, sediments, heavy metals, and bacteria and viruses (pathogens) to the Sound and its tributaries.  The effects of this pollution can include beach closures, fishing and shellfishing restrictions and prohibitions, sedimentation of bottom habitats, and low dissolved oxygen (hypoxia), which in turn can cause fish kills and loss of other marine organisms.  Large amounts of freshwater runoff discharged directly into saltwater tidal wetlands can also upset the delicate balance of fresh- and saltwater in the wetland ecosystem, often resulting in the invasion of freshwater plant species and the degradation of tidal wetlands.  Failing or inadequate septic systems can cause localized water quality problems, releasing pathogens and nutrients to groundwater and surface waters that ultimately discharge to Long Island Sound.  Even properly functioning conventional septic systems can release nutrients that contribute to hypoxia problems.

What is "Section 6217"?

Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990 (CZARA) required states with federally approved coastal zone management programs, including Connecticut, to develop Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs to protect their coastal waters from NPS pollution.  Connecticut’s “6217” program, or Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program (CNP), was approved by the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in November 2003.  The purpose of the program is to implement specific management measures, where they are not already in effect, to control NPS pollution in coastal waters.  Management measures are economically achievable measures that reflect the best available technology for reducing pollutants.   

The EPA and NOAA identified six major nonpoint pollution sources in coastal areas that must be addressed by state Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Programs.  They are: agriculture, forestry, urban sources, marinas and recreational boating, hydromodifications, and wetlands and riparian areas.

Connecticut’s CNP addresses five of these six major categories of NPS pollution: agriculture, urban sources, marinas and recreational boating, hydromodifications, and wetlands and riparian areas. Connecticut received an exclusion from the sixth category, forestry, because forestry activities are adequately addressed through the state’s Forestry Program and do not and are not reasonably anticipated to present significant adverse impacts to coastal waters.

What is a Coastal Nonpoint Program Management Area?

Connecticut’s CNP management area is that portion of the state within which the program’s management measures must be implemented.  To determine the extent of the management area, DEEP conducted a statewide analysis of the type and location of land cover in Connecticut most likely to contribute nonpoint source pollutants to coastal waters.  DEEP also considered the areas of the state in which coastal waters are impaired or are threatened by future development.

What does it mean if my town or city is included in the management area?

Connecticut’s CNP is based on existing state and local authorities, so there are no new mandates for municipalities located in the CNP management area.  Workshops and other technical assistance are available to management area towns to help identify the existing tools available to implement the CNP.  We also welcome comments and suggestions from management area towns to identify additional tools to help with program implementation. 

How will the NPS categories identified by EPA and NOAA be addressed in CT's Program?  

The State of Connecticut has several well-established and effective programs to reduce or eliminate NPS pollution affecting coastal waters, and several of them are administered or overseen by DEEP.  Connecticut’s CNP is a “networked program,” which means that the program will be implemented by weaving together established programs that meet, and in many instances exceed, the management measures developed for each of the categories.  

That is why the CNP is not contained in one program document.  Connecticut’s CNP is based primarily on the Connecticut Coastal Management Act , the Section 319 Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program, and the state’s broad Water Pollution Control Authority

In addition to these foundation programs, there are several networked programs and authorities that are used to implement each CNP program component.  These can be found listed as related links for each CNP category:

Urban Sources

Marinas and Recreational Boating

Hydromodifications

Wetlands and Riparian Areas

Agriculture

The primary focus of the state’s program will be controlling nitrogen and pathogens, especially from urban sources that are proximate to Long Island Sound and its major tributaries.

Implementation of the five NPS categories included in Connecticut’s CNP will focus on “key concepts” for each category.  The key concepts are actually management practices that address a variety of issues, ranging from proper project design and siting to post-construction operation and maintenance.  All levels of government will be responsible for implementing these key concepts in their design and/or review of projects to ensure that appropriate management practices are incorporated into those projects as necessary to protect and improve coastal water quality.

Coastal water quality problems resulting from NPS pollution are not easily eliminated.  Thus, the EPA and NOAA expect that Connecticut’s CNP will be fully implemented by 2013, which will allow DEEP to adjust and augment existing programs to address the most pressing NPS pollution problems first, directing and redirecting limited resources as available and as necessary.  Over time, Connecticut’s CNP will be applied through enhanced efforts, including:

  • addressing NPS pollution control needs on a watershed basis through various methods including coastal site plan review, Section 319 implementation projects, and broader, watershed planning initiatives;
  • continuing technical assistance to municipalities to address nonpoint source impacts from new and existing development; and
  • improving the monitoring and tracking of septic system performance in areas impacting coastal waters.

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