This policy note provides an overview of the range of actions, policies, and institutions around the globe that address nutrient pollution and eutrophication.

Key Findings

In order to reverse eutrophication trends and mitigate nutrient losses to aquatic ecosystems, policymakers should:

  1. Implement research and monitoring programs to characterize the effects of eutrophication, collect water quality data, and inform adaptive management strategies. Information is a key element in the development of robust strategies to reduce eutrophication.

  2. Raise awareness of eutrophication. Eutrophication and its effects are not well understood by the public or policymakers. Public awareness campaigns, school environmental education programs, and targeted outreach and technical assistance are all important components of raising the profile of eutrophication within communities and building a foundation and support for effective actions to reduce nutrient losses and eutrophication.

  3. Implement regulations to mitigate nutrient losses, such as standards, technology requirements, or pollution caps for various sectors.

  4. Create fiscal and economic incentives to encourage nutrient reducing actions using taxes and fees, subsidies, or environmental markets.

  5. Preserve and restore natural ecosystems that capture and cycle nutrients.

  6. Establish strong, engaged, and coordinated institutions to address eutrophication. Effective institutions to implement and enforce policies are important to the success of any eutrophication strategy, especially where multiple jurisdictions are involved.

  7. Capitalize on environmental synergies when designing comprehensive policies to address eutrophication. Many policies and activities associated with reducing nutrient pollution have synergies with other environmental problems such as climate change, smog, and acid rain. Policies selected and implemented should seek to maximize environmental benefits.

Executive Summary

Nutrient overenrichment of freshwater and coastal ecosystems—or eutrophication—is a rapidly growing environmental crisis. Worldwide, the number of coastal areas impacted by eutrophication stands at over 500. In coastal areas, occurrences of dead zones, which are caused by eutrophic conditions, have increased from 10 documented cases in 1960 to 405 documented cases in 2008. In addition, many of the world’s freshwater lakes, streams, and reservoirs suffer from eutrophication; in the United States, eutrophication is considered the primary cause of freshwater impairment.