Emerging policies to control nonpoint source pollution of groundwater

Monday, 15 December 2014: 1:40 PM
Thomas Harter, University of California Davis, Davis, CA, United States
Water quality impairment is among the highest ranking public issues of concern in the developed world. While, in Europe and North America, many water quality programs have been put in place over the past half century, regulators difficulties tackling the geographically most widespread water quality degradation in these regions: pollution of groundwater (as opposed to surface water) from diffuse sources (as opposed to point sources), including contamination with nitrate (affecting drinking water supplies in rural areas and at the rural-urban interface) and salinity (affecting irrigation water quality). Other diffuse pollution contaminants include pesticides and emerging contaminants (e.g., antibiotics and pathogens from animal farming). The geographic and hydrologic characteristics of nonpoint source pollution of groundwater are distinctly different from other types of water pollution: individually liable sources are contiguous across the landscape, and internally heterogeneous in space and time. On annually aggregated time scales (most relevant to groundwater), sources are continuously emitting pollution, while pollution levels typically do not exceed MCLs by less than a factor 2. An analysis of key elements of existing water pollution policies to control groundwater pollution from diffuse sources demonstrates the lack of both, science and institutional capacity, while existing point-source approaches cannot be applied toward the control of diffuse pollution to groundwater. For the latter, a key to a successful policy is a tiered, three-way monitoring program based on proxy compliance metrics instead of direct measurement of pollutant discharge, research linking actual pollutant discharges to proxy metrics, and long-term regional groundwater monitoring to establish large scale, long-term trends. Several examples of emerging regulations from California and the EU are given to demonstrate these principles.