Agricultural nonpoint source water pollution policy: The case of California's Central Coast

Agricultural nonpoint source water pollution policy: The case of California's Central Coast

Brian M. Dowd, Daniel Press and Marc Los Huertos

Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment
Volume 128, Issue 3, November 2008, Pages 151-161

This article is important because “pollution from nonpoint sources [NPS] now constitutes the number one source of pollution in waterways, with agriculture being the single largest contributor… Yet this globally important issue has thus far received relatively scant attention in the literature.” (151, 159) The article fills two critical gaps with (1) a comprehensive review of NPS pollution policy literature and (2) a case study in California of barriers to effective NPS pollution regulation. The case study addresses a “relative political success” that nevertheless “relies on a number of key assumptions, the accuracy of which will ultimately dictate its success at achieving desired environmental outcomes.” (152) The investigation of these assumptions is particularly relevant for our discussion in demonstrating how broad and vague political goals (“fishable and swimmable waters” and “zero discharge”) are ultimately reduced to concrete – though still challenging – measures of “improvement in water quality or a clear link between [implemented measures] and water quality without toxicity, agricultural pesticide residues and elevated nutrient concentrations.” (159) Moreover, the article is important in calling for further research on how monitoring of even these measures of success is negotiated between regulators, growers, workers, and other stakeholders – another unfortunate gap in the predominant literature.

Gustavo de L. T. Oliveira

Image: View of runoff, also called nonpoint source pollution, from a farm field in Iowa during a rain storm.

Photo by Lynn Betts, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

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