Water Quality FAQs

Nonpoint source (NPS) pollution, unlike pollution from industrial and sewage treatment plants, comes from many diffuse sources. NPS pollution is caused by rainfall or snowmelt moving over and through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, finally depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters, and even our underground sources of drinking water. These pollutants include: excess fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides from agricultural lands and residential areas; oil, grease, and toxic chemicals from urban runoff and energy production; sediment from improperly managed construction sites, crop and forest lands, and eroding streambanks; salt from irrigation practices and acid drainage from abandoned mines; and bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes, and faulty septic systems. Atmospheric deposition and hydromodification are also sources of nonpoint source pollution.” (EPA-841-F-94-005, 1994).

Sediment is the most frequently reported NPS contaminant to Oklahoma’s waters, followed by nutrients including primarily nitrogen and phosphorus.

The Clean Water Act was amended by congress in 1987 to establish a section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program because of the increasingly recognized significance of NPS pollution. Under 319, money is available to support NPS programs that provide technical and financial assistance, education, training, technology transfer, demonstration projects, and monitoring. For more information, see EPA’s webpage on section 319 of the Clean Water Act: http://www.epa.gov/owow/nps/cwact.html.

The current NPS Working Group is made up of 39 members from a variety of backgrounds, collected to include a broad representation of State, federal, and local agencies as well as special interest entities, environmental groups, and Native American representatives in the process of directing NPS pollution management. The NPS Working Group acts in a peer-review manner by providing input, opinions, and constructive criticism regarding the development and implementation of NPS policy and programs. The specific function of the group is divided into five purposes:

  • Assist in the revision of the NPS Management Plan;
  • Confirm the process of selecting priority watersheds;
  • Provide consensus in the planning of work in priority watersheds;
  • Develop in-state leadership regarding NPS issues; and
  • Promote consistency between State-State and Federal-State NPS policies.

The ecological disaster known as the Dust Bowl of the 1930s prompted Congress to recognize the need for an organization to help private citizens conserve the natural resources on their land. Conservation Districts serve the conservation needs of our nation by providing education and assistance to help local citizens conserve land, water, forests, wildlife and other natural resources. There are 88 Conservation Districts in Oklahoma, approximately one per county, although some counties contain more than one District.

Your conservation district should be the first people you call. Partnered with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, they know your area and are the best local resource to solve your problems. They can help you develop a plan to efficiently conserve the natural resources on and around your land. Finally, if the nature of the problem is another agency’s area of responsibility, the conservation district can direct you to that agency and provide that agency with the technical details of the nature of the problem.

Some actions are more harmful than others. When referring to water quality, best management practices are techniques, actions, or tools whose use is preferred over other techniques, actions, or tools to minimize or prevent pollution of water.

Designated or beneficial uses are descriptions of water quality expectations or water quality goals. A designated use is a legally recognized description of a desired use of the waterbody, such as aquatic life support, body contact recreation, fish consumption, or public drinking water supply. These are uses that the state or authorized tribe wants the waterbody to be healthy enough to fully support. The Clean Water Act requires that waterbodies attain or maintain the water quality needed to support designated and existing uses. State and tribal governments are primarily responsible for designating uses of waterbodies within their jurisdictions. (EPA Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans)

In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board assigns beneficial uses to waterbodies of the State based on what the water is used for, or what it could be used for. These beneficial uses include public and private water supply, fish and wildlife propagation, agriculture, hydropower, municipal and industrial process and cooling water, primary body contact recreation (such as swimming), secondary body contact recreation (such as boating or fishing), navigation and aesthetics. All uses receive equal protection, and waterbodies are generally assigned more than one beneficial use. For more information about beneficial uses, see the Oklahoma Water Resources Board webpage.

Oklahoma’s Water Quality Standards provide quantitative and qualitative measures to determine the quality of the State’s waters. However, standards provide little information about how those measures are to be applied or interpreted. For instance, standards do little to specify the number of samples necessary to make decisions or how to apply qualitative or narrative criteria. Therefore, the State, through the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, developed Use Support Assessment Protocols (USAP) to describe how to apply Water Quality Standards to determine whether or not a waterbody is meeting its beneficial uses. For more information about the USAP, see the Oklahoma Water Resources Board webpage.