A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released Jan. 13 states that the total maximum daily load (TMDL) program would be more effective if the Clean Water Act included mandatory pollution controls for agriculture. Based on historical funding and restoration rates, GAO points out that the time required to address water quality impairments associated with nonpoint source pollution would be greater than 1,000 years.

Current means for managing agricultural nonpoint source pollution are mostly voluntary. In its report, “Changes Needed If Key EPA Program Is to Help Fulfill the Nation’s Water Quality Goals,” the GAO provides a review of the TMDL program that focuses both on its effectiveness as well as the roles of both states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In a TMDL survey of state officials, only 20% of states reported achieving nonpoint source pollution targets. Despite efforts by municipalities to reduce point source pollution and minimize stormwater runoff, TMDLs are ineffective when the primary impairment sources include unpermitted activities, such as agriculture.  GAO also states that specifically identifying the stressors causing water quality impairment and gathering more information and results from state TMDL implementation would improve the program’s effectiveness.