Environmental Planning


Alabama’s water resources include approximately 47,072 miles of perennial rivers and streams, 30,170 miles of intermittent streams, 14 major river basins, and 550 trillion gallons of groundwater. In addition, the greatest yield of water per square mile in the country is found in the Mobile Basin. The state’s unique ecological, geological and physiographic regions along with its species diversity all play a vital role in the proper functioning of our state’s unique ecosystems and natural heritage.

As the state’s population continues to increase, so do the societal demands on water resources. Nonpoint source pollution can negatively impact surface water and groundwater that is used for drinking, recreation, commerce and supporting healthy populations of flora and fauna. Water quality protection and restoration progress continues to be made in Alabama using an integrated suite of voluntary and regulatory strategies to meet state water quality standards and improve beneficial uses of water.

The efficient and effective mitigation of nonpoint source pollution in Alabama requires the substantial investment of financial and technical resources. No single federal, state, and local entity can adequately address all nonpoint source issues, especially on a watershed management basis, by working in isolation. Cooperative partnerships are essential to ensuring long-term water quality protection and restoration success. Identifying adequate and stabilized sources of funding is critical to ensuring that current programmatic delivery levels are maintained, especially in light of the current budget challenges facing the state.

The TARCOG looks forward to continuing communication, coordination, collaboration, and cooperation with our valued partners. The partnerships that have been established to address nonpoint source pollution in Alabama have already achieved many accomplishments and successes. Together, we can all continue to build upon those successes and work to improve Alabama’s environmental resources for today’s citizens as well as future generations.




Polluted Runoff: Nonpoint Source Pollution

What is nonpoint source pollution?

Nonpoint source pollution generally results from land runoff, precipitation, atmospheric deposition, drainage, seepage or hydrologic modification. 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 ground waters.

Nonpoint source pollution can 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 stream banks
  • Salt from irrigation practices and acid drainage from abandoned mines
  • Bacteria and nutrients from livestock, pet wastes and faulty septic systems
  • Atmospheric deposition and hydromodification

Nonpoint Source: Urban Areas

Urbanization increases the variety and amount of pollutants carried into our nation’s waters. In urban and suburban areas, much of the land surface is covered by buildings, pavement and compacted landscapes. These surfaces do not allow rain and snow melt to soak into the ground which greatly increases the volume and velocity of storm water runoff. In addition to these habitat-destroying impacts, pollutants from urban runoff include:

  • Sediment
  • Oil, grease and toxic chemicals from motor vehicles
  • Pesticides and nutrients from lawns and gardens
  • Viruses, bacteria and nutrients from pet waste and failing septic systems
  • Road salts
  • Heavy metals from roof shingles, motor vehicles and other sources
  • Thermal pollution from impervious surfaces such as streets and rooftops

These pollutants can harm fish and wildlife populations, kill native vegetation, foul drinking water, and make recreational areas unsafe and unpleasant.

Urban Runoff: Low Impact Development

The term low impact development (LID) refers to systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration or use of stormwater in order to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat. EPA currently uses the term green infrastructure to refer to the management of wet weather flows using these processes, and to refer to the patchwork of natural areas that provide habitat, flood protection, cleaner air and cleaner water. At both the site and regional scale, LID/GI practices aim to preserve, restore and create green space using soils, vegetation, and rainwater harvest techniques. LID is an approach to land development (or re-development) that works with nature to manage stormwater as close to its source as possible. LID employs principles such as preserving and recreating natural landscape features, minimizing effective imperviousness to create functional and appealing site drainage that treat stormwater as a resource rather than a waste product. There are many practices that have been used to adhere to these principles such as bioretention facilities, rain gardens, vegetated rooftops, rain barrels and permeable pavements. By implementing LID principles and practices, water can be managed in a way that reduces the impact of built areas and promotes the natural movement of water within an ecosystem or watershed. Applied on a broad scale, LID can maintain or restore a watershed’s hydrologic and ecological functions.

Nonpoint Source: Agriculture

The United States has more than 330 million acres of row crop agricultural land that produce an abundant supply of food and other products. American agriculture is noted worldwide for its high productivity, quality and efficiency in delivering goods to consumers. When improperly managed, however, activities from working farms and ranches can impact local and far-field water quality.

The National Water Quality Assessment shows that agricultural nonpoint source (NPS) pollution is the leading source of water quality impacts on surveyed rivers and streams, the third largest source for lakes, the second largest source of impairments to wetlands, and a major contributor to contamination of surveyed estuaries and ground water.

Agricultural activities that cause NPS pollution most generally occur in the absence of a conservation plan. Impacts can be generated from activities such as poorly located or managed animal feeding operations and manure, overgrazing, plowing too often or at the wrong time and improper application fertilizer.

What You Can Do to Prevent Nonpoint Source Pollution

Urban Stormwater Runoff:

  • Keep litter, pet wastes, leaves and debris out of street gutters and storm drains—these outlets drain directly to lake, streams, rivers and wetlands.
  • Apply lawn and garden chemicals sparingly and according to directions.
  • Dispose of used oil, antifreeze, paints and other household chemicals properly—not in storm sewers or drains. If your community does not already have a program for collecting household hazardous wastes, ask your local government to establish one.
  • Clean up spilled brake fluid, oil, grease and antifreeze. Do not hose them into the street where they can eventually reach local streams and lakes.
  • Control soil erosion on your property by planting ground cover and stabilizing erosion-prone areas.
  • Encourage local government officials to develop construction erosion and sediment control ordinances in your community.
  • Have your septic system inspected and pumped, at a minimum every three to five years, so that it operates properly.
  • Purchase household detergents and cleaners that are low in phosphorous to reduce the amount of nutrients discharged into our lakes, streams and coastal waters.
  • Manage animal waste to minimize contamination of surface water and ground water.
  • Protect drinking water by using less pesticides and fertilizers.
  • Reduce soil erosion by using conservation practices and other applicable best management practices.
  • Use planned grazing systems on pasture and rangeland.
  • Dispose of pesticides, containers, and tank rinsate in an approved manner.


  • Use proper logging and erosion control practices on your forest lands by ensuring proper construction, maintenance, and closure of logging roads and skid trails.
  • Report questionable logging practices to state and federal forestry and state water quality agencies.

Should you have questions or need assistance in a matter relating to environmental protection please do not hesitate to contact our office or your local Soil and Water Conservation District Office at https://alconservationdistricts.gov/ .

Environmental Protection Resources:

Alabama Department of Environmental Management Programs: http://adem.alabama.gov/programs/default.cnt

Alabama Department of Environmental Management Grant Resources: http://adem.alabama.gov/programs/water/nps/319grant.cnt

Alabama Clean Water Partnership http://www.cleanwaterpartnership.org/

Conserve Alabama https://alconservationdistricts.gov/conserve-alabama/

U.S. EPA Green Infrastructure: https://www.epa.gov/green-infrastructure

U.S .EPA Stormwater Planning: https://www.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater-planning

U.S .EPA Water Quality Assessment Information for Alabama: https://ofmpub.epa.gov/waters10/attains_state.control?p_state=AL

Nonpoint Source Educational Materials for Students: https://www.epa.gov/nps/nonpoint-source-educational-materials-students

Model Ordinances:

Model Ordinances to Protect Local Resources provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
This web site includes model ordinances to serve as a template for those charged with making decisions concerning growth and environmental protection. The ordinances included are aquatic buffers, erosion and sediment control, open space development, stormwater control operation and maintenance, illicit discharges, and post construction controls. There is also a miscellaneous category containing ordinances that don’t fit into these sections. In addition, this web site has materials that support particular ordinances, such as maintenance agreements and inspection checklists.

Model Ordinances for Aquatic Resource Protection provided by The Stormwater Manager’s Resource Center
This web site provides examples of both real-world and model ordinances that can be used to guide future growth while safeguarding local natural resources. The intent is to provide language and ideas that communities and stormwater managers can incorporate when constructing an ordinance for their local area. Model ordinances included are:

  • Post-Construction Stormwater Management
  • Stream Buffer Ordinances
  • Illicit Detection and Elimination Measures
  • Erosion and Sediment Control Requirements
  • Open Space Design Zoning Controls
  • Operation and Maintenance Criteria for Stormwater Practices
  • Groundwater Protection Ordinances Miscellaneous

Page last updated April 2010