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Protecting the county’s liquid assets

DEC: Pollutants keep some bodies of water from supporting appropriate uses

Chris McKelvey, of Rotterdam, sets out on Collins Lake with his 8-year-old son, Connor, on Tuesday, Aug. 16. Connor had received a new kayak for his birthday on Friday, Aug. 12, said Chris, and he wanted to get out on the lake and try it out.

Chris McKelvey, of Rotterdam, sets out on Collins Lake with his 8-year-old son, Connor, on Tuesday, Aug. 16. Connor had received a new kayak for his birthday on Friday, Aug. 12, said Chris, and he wanted to get out on the lake and try it out. Photo by John Purcell.

— In 1972, the National Pollutant Discharge and Elimination System was established to regulate point source pollution, which includes industrial facilities, government facilities and some agricultural facilities. The United States Environmental Protection Agency manages the program, but in 46 states, including New York, a state agency issues the permits directly to facilities.

Werner said the State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, known as SPDES, has helped clean and maintain water bodies. Now, the main pollution sources are more difficult to track down and address.

“The SPDES in New York State has been very essential in cleaning up the surface water,” said Werner. “[Waterbodies] are not impaired by an industrial facility or waste water treatment plan; they are being impaired by a nonpoint source.”

Basically, everything not coming out a pipe, said Werner, is a nonpoint source. This type of pollution comes from stormwater from roofs, parking lots and lawns. Also, bare soil can gather various pollutants, which are released during runoff. Even pesticide usage and common household chemicals can affect water bodies.

“The primary causes of use impairments are typically urban and/or agricultural runoff, and in some cases on-site septic systems,” said Rick Georgeson, spokesman for the DEC, in an email. “These all contribute excess nutrients and other contaminants to the waterbodies. These are so-called nonpoint sources of pollution and there is no one easy way to address them all.”

For agricultural areas, there are best management practices that Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Cooperative Extension offices promote to farmers, said Georgeson. Grants are also occasionally available to provide assistance in reducing runoff from farm fields, he said, which can contain fertilizer, pesticides and soil particles.

Urban runoff from new development projects is addressed through SPDES, which include any owners or operators of a construction project disturbing at least one acre. Other forms of pollutions though, said Georgeson, are best addressed at a local level, through planning and zoning.

In next week’s Spotlight, this series will look at air quality and energy in the county.

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