Clean Water Act Summary


The Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. §1251 et, seq,) is a 1977 amendment to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, which set the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants to waters of the United States.

Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972

The 1972 law gave EPA the authority to set effluent standards on an industry basis (technology-based) and continued the requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters. The CWA makes it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters unless a permit (NPDES) is obtained under the Act.

The principal 1972 amendments include:

  • Established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges..
  • Gave EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs,.
  • Maintained existing requirements to set water quality standards.
  • Made it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant, without a permit, from a point source into navigable waters.
  • Funded the construction of sewage treatment plants.
  • Recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by nonpoint source pollution.

Clean Water Act of 1977

The Clean Water Act of 1977 was meant to adjust and enhance some of the requirements of the 1972 Act. When Congress was debating the 1972 Act, they realized that corrections would need to be made as once the law went into effect when it became clear what worked and what did not. The 1977 law strengthened the EPA. It gave the EPA the authority to develop programs for controlling wetlands. Further, it provided authority to the EPA to clean up oil and hazardous substance pollution some 200 miles from the shoreline.

The principal amendments to the 1977 Act focused on toxic pollutants. It required industries to meet best available technology standards for specified toxic pollutants by July 1, 1984. It, further, required compliance with best available technology standards for newly listed toxics within three years.

Clean Water Act of 1987

In 1987, the CWA was reauthorized and again focused on toxic substances, authorized citizen suit provisions, and funded sewage treatment plants (POTW's) under the Construction Grants Program. The 1987 Clean Water Act created the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) to finance projects that improve water quality. States have used CWSRF loans to finance large municipal wastewater treatment facilities. They have also used the funds to help manage nonpoint source pollution (NPS). This is pollution that does not come from a direct source like a chemical plant, but rather rainwater or snow melt that pickups up pollutants as it travels over man-made surfaces.

Summary

The Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. §300f et seq.) continue to provide the backbone of water pollution enforcement. The acts provide for the compliance standards for:

  • Wastewater Management;
  • Animal Waste Management;
  • Oil and Hazardous Substances Control;
  • Discharges of Dredge and Fill Wetlands; and
  • the Gulf Oil Spill.

In addition, the Clean Water Act allows for the EPA to work with state and federal agencies to monitor and ensure compliance with the statutes and regulations.