Handling environmental problems oftentimes is a complex issue, involving input from a variety of agencies and including the general public. Environmental problems of themselves are often complicated, especially when the source of the issue is not easily identified. Often, an environmental problem does not exist in isolation. Rather, it can be part of a complicated chain of issues, each with its own impact. Another factor complicates environmental problems—people. Most pollution is caused by human activities. Therefore, a solution may involve restrictions or cessations of certain activities.
Identify the specific problem. In order to solve an environmental problem, it must be clearly defined. This step will allow environmental managers and other agencies to develop an appropriate solution.
Create a plan of action. After identifying the problem, agencies and interested parties can begin developing a plan for a solution to the environmental problem. A plan creates focus. Each party can have a clear role in its implementation.
Perform initial testing. Testing provides a baseline and means to measure the success or failure of solutions. Initial testing can include soil and water testing, wildlife inventories and plant surveys.
Look for a possible source of the problem. Sometimes, the source of the environmental problem is evident, as in acidic mine drainage from an abandoned mine contaminating local water resources. Other times, the source is not clear, as in nonpoint source pollution (NSP) caused by runoff.
Attempt to identify the causes by the process of elimination. Consider restricting access to the affected area to determine if human traffic is causing the issue. Sometimes just reducing the environmental pressures can allow the land to recover.
Retest and resurvey affected sites. As possible causes are eliminated, retest to find out if the effect is being mitigated. Recovery can occur slowly and not be readily visible. Testing can provide the necessary information.
Investigate possible violations of environmental law. If an industry is the source, for example, state or federal law may provide the tools necessary to halt the violator. Be aware that environmental issues can be caused by sources far from the point of impact.
Contact legislators to create laws and regulations. The Clean Water Act of 1972, for example, does not have the provisions within it to regulate sources such as agricultural runoff. Another concern is cost. Cleanup is often expensive, requiring additional funding.
Educate the general public about its effect on the environment. Many environmental issues grow into problems because of the failure of people to recognize their impact. Environmental problems caused by continually littering or failure to recycle become greater over time.
In order to reach a solution, the input of all stakeholders is essential.
Involve the general public in the solution to help create a sense of ownership.
Some environmental problems have long-term impacts and may require years of recovery efforts.