Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Pollution Assessment & Prevention

Pollution is generally categorized as either point source or nonpoint source (NPS) pollution. Point source pollution originates in effluent that is discharged regularly (such as daily) from industrial and municipal wastewater treatment plants through permanent conduits such as pipes or ditches. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), a permit-based program that regulates industrial and municipal discharges, has been the most prominent prevention method to date for point sources.

Nonpoint sources of pollution originate from diffuse sources scattered across residential, agricultural, forested, and urban landscapes. It is transported to receiving water bodies in runoff from storm events or irrigation tail water. The most common NPS pollutants are sediment, plant nutrients, and pesticides. Due to its variable delivery, it is difficult to identify and subsequently, difficult to control NPS pollution. In turn, assessing the risk and impact of NPS pollution on water quality, aquatic habitat, and designated water uses is also difficult.

In the Southern Region, the Land Grant University System provides research, education and extension outreach resources to assist natural resource agencies, industry, communities, private citizens, and non-profit organizations in assessing the risk and impact of NPS pollution on water quality as well as developing and promoting pollution prevention strategies for NPS pollution.

Conditions in Your Watershed

Under the authority of the Federal Clean Water Act, individual states are required to assess their waters to develop a list of water-quality impaired lakes and streams. An impaired waterbody is one whose water quality does not support designated uses such as drinking water, primary (swimming) contact, secondary contact (fishing), and aquatic wildlife habitat. The list of impaired waterbodies by state can be found at For more detailed information, please refer to individual state pages on this site for links to individual state agencies.

Resources and Programs

Over the past twenty years, Land Grant Universities have substantially increased efforts in research, education, and Extension outreach in addressing water quality issues. Some pollution assessment and prevention examples for each of these areas are listed below. For information for a specific state, please refer to the individual state page.

Extension Outreach

The mission of the Cooperative Extension Service is to transform research results from agricultural experiment stations into information that can be delivered on a county basis for the immediate benefit of local residents and for the good of the public at-large. While many Extension programs have traditionally targeted agricultural land managers and rural residents, water quality outreach efforts in pollution assessment and prevention have also been aimed at youth through 4-H education and urban dwellers through programs such as Home*A*Syst.

Another important aspect of water quality programming is the development of partnerships with water quality agencies and organizations. A wide range of resources regarding pollution assessment and prevention are available through a NIFA Pollution Assessment and Prevention National Facilitation Project. Efforts in the Southern Region may be found on your state's pollution assessment and prevention page on this website (links at bottom of page) and some examples follow below:

Scientific Research

The mission of scientific research conducted at agricultural experiment stations is to develop new technology and better understanding of processes to ensure that agricultural production and natural resource management is efficient, profitable, and sustainable while minimizing any potential environmental impacts.

Research specific to pollution assessment and prevention in the South has included technology for identifying and quantifying agricultural NPS pollution as well as developing risk assessment tools for managing NPS pollution. Efforts have also focused on prevention by developing and evaluating agricultural best management practices such as conservation tillage, pesticide application, and nutrient management planning.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Current Research Information System (CRIS) provides access to reports on research regarding pollution assessment and prevention supported by USDA and conducted at research centers or Land Grant Universities. Some examples of efforts in the Southern Region include:

College and University Education

University education and continuing adult education has been tailored in the last twenty years to enhance training of students to effectively enter the workforce and address emerging pollution assessment and prevention. This has been accomplished by offering new degree programs and coursework in addition to traditional agricultural programs. Some examples of degree programs in the Southern Region include:

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