Background Memo

Context of Eutrophication

Agriculture is one of the biggest industries in America, and our water systems are enduring severe damage as a result. When farming, fertilizers are used to keep the soil rich in nutrients to produce the large amount of food American’s need. However, fertilizer doesn’t stay in the soil, the nutrients runoff through rainwater or other forms of irrigation into bodies of water, eventually harming them. This damage is defined through a process called eutrophication, and happens when too many nutrients are washed into the river through fertilizer. This starts when Nitrate and Phosphate rich soils are washed into our waters. These nutrients become food for algae, which results in them reproducing and creating a thick layer of algal bloom on top of the water. This bloom blocks sunlight from entering water, and plants on the bottom of the water die as they can’t photosynthesize. Bacteria then uses up the oxygen, killing all living things in the water. “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” (n.a., 2015). 

Historical Background

Eutrophication is a fairly new topic, as the results of it sometimes take years to see. But “For more than 30 years, nutrient enrichment, especially phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N), has been considered as a major threat to the health of coastal marine waters” (Andersen et al., 2004).  It was first recognized as a water-pollution problem in the mid-twentieth century (Rhode, 1969).   “The term ‘eutrophication’ came into common usage from the 1940s onwards, when it was realized that, over a period of years, plant nutrients derived from industrial activity and agriculture had caused changes in water quality and the biological character of water bodies” (Eutrophication, n.d.). Growing concern led to acts like the Clean Water Act, which aims to maintain “chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, n.d).

Key Players and Stakeholders

The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, is probably the largest and most influential key player in the issue of Eutrophication. The EPA has reached out to other key players and stakeholders to collaborate and provide tools and other resources to comply with the Clean Water Act.  Beside partnering with other stakeholders, the Environmental Protection Agency is “Promoting Collaborative Approaches, Overseeing Regulatory Programs, Conducting Outreach, Developing Partnerships, Providing Technical and Programmatic Support to States, Financing Nutrient Reduction Activities, Conducting Research and Development” (EPA, n.d).  The EPA is also trying to tackle eutrophication at the individual level, by letting the average person know what they can do in their home, yard, and community.


Andersen JH, Conley DJ, Hedal S. Palaeoecology, reference conditions and classification of ecological status: The EU Water Framework Directive in practice. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 2004;49(4):283–290. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2004.04.014.

Clean Water Act (CWA). (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

Eutrophication. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

Rodhe, W. (1969) “Crystallization of eutrophication concepts in North Europe”. In: Eutrophication, Causes, Consequences, Correctives. National Academy of Sciences, Washington D.C., ISBN 9780309017008 , pp. 50–64.

What EPA is Doing to Reduce Nutrient Pollution. (2020, October 01). Retrieved October 20, 2020, from

US EPA, O. (2015, July 7). Nonpoint Source: Agriculture [Overviews and Factsheets]. US EPA.

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