When Will Governments Regulate Nonpoint Source Pollution? A Comparative Perspective

65 Pages Posted: 28 Jan 2015 Last revised: 29 Dec 2016

See all articles by Robin Kundis Craig

Robin Kundis Craig

USC Gould School of Law

Anna Roberts

Water Stewardship, Inc.

Date Written: January 26, 2015


While the United States’ Clean Water Act does not directly regulate nonpoint source water pollution, it does provide mechanisms that prompt states to address nonpoint source water quality problems within their borders. This prompt, however merely raises the next question: when, or under what political conditions, will states actually do so? While individual states within the United States provide many bases for comparison, this Article examines the issue of prompting nonpoint source regulation from an international comparative perspective, focusing on the nascent efforts of the Australian states of Victoria and Queensland to address nonpoint source pollution and the potential lessons from the various U.S. states’ histories of nonpoint source regulation. Specifically, this Article’s examination of nonpoint source management in various U.S. states suggests: (1) there will be little political will to regulate water quality until water quality problems become obvious to the relevant populace; (2) agricultural sources of nonpoint source pollution generally create the most significant political resistance to regulation; but (3) important countervailing interests in water quality — such as water-based tourism and recreational interests, drinking water quality, and/or culturally important fisheries — can sometimes overcome at least some political resistance to nonpoint source regulation. Translating these lessons to Australia, open source water supply catchments in Victoria and agriculturally-induced water quality impacts to the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland may present the best political opportunities to create regulatory requirements for up-stream agricultural nonpoint sources. Still, institutional reform and increased political will at both the state and federal levels are needed. In particular, the Australian Commonwealth Government must become the leader in improving water quality for the Great Barrier Reef.

Keywords: nonpoint source, diffuse source, Australia, Queensland, Victoria, water quality

Suggested Citation

Craig, Robin Kundis and Roberts, Anna, When Will Governments Regulate Nonpoint Source Pollution? A Comparative Perspective (January 26, 2015). 42:1 Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review 1-64 (2015), University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 111, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2514350

Robin Kundis Craig (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

Anna Roberts

Water Stewardship, Inc. ( email )

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