NOAA 2000-422
Contact: Connie Barclay

First approved island program and fourth overall

San Juan - Puerto Rico has received final federal approval on the commonwealth's new polluted runoff program aimed to combat the leading cause of water quality problems in Puerto Rico. The Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program was announced at a signing ceremony today by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Ocean Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the two federal agencies responsible for reviewing the program. Puerto Rico's Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program is the first among U.S. island territories to receive full federal approval, and the fourth overall after Maryland, Rhode Island and California.

Polluted runoff, also known as nonpoint source pollution, is caused when rain picks up pollutants on land and deposits them into coastal waters, lakes, rivers, and even underground drinking water aquifers. Sources of polluted runoff include urban construction, streets and highways, septic tanks, logging and agricultural activities.

Approximately 3,000 miles of the 5,384 river and stream miles were impacted to various degrees by nonpoint sources of pollution. In addition, approximately 220 of the 550 assessed coastal miles in Puerto Rico's 1998 water quality report were either threatened or impaired for their designated use.

"Puerto Rico has demonstrated resolution and leadership in meeting the requirements and goals of the coastal nonpoint program through its own laws, programs and inter-agency cooperation," said Dr. D. James Baker, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "In particular we commend Governor Roselló for signing an executive order which calls on the commonwealth to integrate polluted runoff controls into all activities which could affect Puerto Rico's water quality."

NOAA and the EPA announced their final approval of Puerto Rico's Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program under Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments of 1990. Section 6217 aims to strengthen the links between federal and state coastal zone management and water quality programs to enhance state and local efforts in managing land use activities that degrade coastal waters and coastal habitats.

Puerto Rico's Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program is based on Commonwealth Executive Order OE-1999-08, signed by Governor Pedro Roselló on Feb. 8, 1999. The order was adopted as public policy for the "mandatory management measures" contained in the federal coastal nonpoint program guidance developed by NOAA and EPA. Further, the order created a Committee for the Control of Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in the Coastal Zone composed of all relevant agencies. This committee is charged with "the development and implementation" of a "plan for the control of sources of nonpoint pollution in Puerto Rico's coastal zone."

The order calls for the member agencies of the committee, including the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and the Puerto Rico Department of Protection of Natural Resources, to adopt the management measures and integrate them into their existing decision-making processes within two years of the effective date of the order. The order also lists several specific legal and administrative mechanisms that the member agencies must use to demonstrate compliance with the measures. Finally, the order requires the member agencies to develop and implement jointly, under their respective legal frameworks, the public policies, plans, programs, or organizational structures required to assure the effective implementation of required management measures.

The committee has already developed a detailed 15-year strategy to implement the executive order, including specific actions each agency will take to integrate the management measures into their programs, and an implementation schedule for each measure. This strategy also addresses technical assistance, critical coastal areas, additional management measures, and monitoring. In the first five year period, Puerto Rico will target the implementation of measures in priority watersheds identified in the Unified Watershed Assessment. Experts will conduct extensive capacity building and outreach activities, followed by inspections, permits, and enforcement where necessary. Implementing this program will empower Puerto Rico to better provide people with clean coastal waters for both commerce and recreation.

We've come a long way in cleaning up treatment plants and industry in Puerto Rico, but our waters are still not as clean as they could and should be," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Region 2 Administrator. Now's the time to focus on the millions of small sources that add up to water quality problems in Puerto Rico. I am very pleased that Puerto Rico is taking responsibility to address what is the leading causes of water pollution on the island through this program."

NOAA's National Ocean Service and EPA provided funding and support for the development of Puerto Rico's Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program and will continue to support the program throughout the implementation phase.

Polluted runoff is a prime suspect in contributing to conditions that have led to harmful algal blooms around the nation. In a recent NOAA study of our nation's estuaries, algal production was highly affected by human-related sources of pollution in 82 percent of the estuaries studied. Experts believe that algal production could worsen in two-thirds of the estuaries studied during the next 20 years. The coastal population is expected to increase by more than 10 percent during the same time.

Beach closures are another national problem attributable to nonpoint source pollution. During 1998, at U.S. beaches, there were over 10,012 days of closings and advisories due to poor water quality caused, in part, by polluted runoff. Closings and advisories can have a significant economic impact. Coastal tourism, attributable in part to clean beaches, generates substantial revenues for state and local governments. In fact, 85 percent of tourism dollars in the U.S. are received in coastal states.

Coastal nonpoint programs will be implemented through the state nonpoint source pollution program approved by EPA under section 319 of the Clean Water Act and through the state coastal zone management program approved by NOAA under Section 306 of the Coastal Zone Management Act. The program is a unique and voluntary partnership of federal and coastal state and territorial governments. The partners encourage a balance between land and water uses in coastal zones and conservation of fragile coastal resources.

More information on the CZMA and the Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Program is available from NOAA at: and from the EPA at: