Preventing Water Pollution

Preventing Water Pollution

hattiesburg sewage outfallUnder the Clean Water Act, all discharges of a pollutant from a discrete, “point” source require a permit. Point source is defined as "any discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance (any pipe, ditch, channel, or the like)." If a discharge fits this description, a permit must be obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to legally discharge any pollutant into a waterbody. In all five Gulf States, this permitting authority has been granted to the states, with EPA playing a supervisory role.

Focusing on Louisiana and Mississippi, Gulf Restoration Network monitors all of the proposals to discharge pollution into state waters. Many times, these proposals would permit inappropriate levels of pollution into waters that residents and wildlife depend upon for fishing, swimming and drinking. 

Combating Sewage Pollution

The Gulf South is riddled with aging sewage treatment plants and septic tanks. These are often not well operated or maintained. Unfortunately the States often do not adequately ensure these facilities are meeting the requirements of the Clean Water Act.

In order to help you prevent harmful sewage pollution from entering the streams and rivers that you love, Gulf Restoration Network has produced "Our Waters, Our Health, A Citizen's Guide to Sewage Pollution." This Guide illustrates how untreated or poorly-treated sewage creates pollution problems, explains how governments regulate sewage pollution, outlines how our waters become contaminated by sewage and teaches citizens how to solve problems in their community.

Pollution from untreated sewage is a problem in many Gulf communities. In 2011, beaches in the Gulf States were closed or had swimming advisories for a combined total of 5,933 days due to elevated levels of bacteria in the water. Much of the bacteria came from sources such as sewage spills, septic tanks and other runoff from developed areas. Water contaminated by sewage can contain harmful chemicals and disease-causing bacteria and viruses. Those who swim in contaminated water can potentially experience diarrhea, vomiting, ear infections, rashes, or even serious diseases such as hepatitis.

In addition, sewage can contaminate valuable shellfish beds which can lead to illness and hospitalization of those who consume them. In the Florida Keys, 85 percent of elkhorn corals have been killed by white pox disease, caused by bacteria in human sewage.

Older or malfunctioning sewage treatment plants are a prime source of pathogens in water. Broken, leaky, or corroded pipes can lead to direct discharges of raw sewage. In addition, many facilities are not properly maintained or modernized, leading to discharges of improperly treated sewage.

Common Pollutants Found in Sewage

  • Bacteria and Viruses that can cause intestinal illnesses, respiratory problems, and even death.
  • Nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, that can cause harmful algal blooms, low dissolved oxygen, and dead zones.
  • Pharmaceuticals, which can interfere with animal and human endocrine systems.

If you have a problem with a sewage discharge or other pollution issue, get in touch with us, and we will help as best we can.

Additional Resources

Our Waters, Our Health, A Citizen's Guide to Sewage Pollution
The Clean Water Act User's Manual