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Clean Water Act (CWA: US)

 
 

By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL

 
 

The Clean Water Act (CWA) contains the major federal regulations governing water pollution in the US. The CWA was originally passed in 1972 under the title Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (FWPCA; Public Law 92-500; CWA Link).

The first federal regulation to control water pollution was the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 ( Federal WPCA; Public Law 845). The history of amendments to this Act and the creating of joining legislation is complex, and thus here were restrict commentary to the FWPCA also known as the Clean Water Act and its related Acts, the Clean Water Act of 1977 and the Water Quality Control Act of 1987.

The purpose of the 1972 FWPCA was to prevent and/or eliminate pollution discharges into waterway (defined in the Statute as “navigable waterways) by the year 1985, and to establish water quality levels that were defined as “fishable” and “swimmable” and which also protected wildlife by 1983. These standards have yet to be met in the US.

The FWPCA attempted to achieve these standards by setting limits on point source emissions from industrial facilities and those generated by Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTW) such as municipal sewage treatment plants, or major point source water pollution emissions. The Act addresses three types of water pollution emissions: (1) toxic emissions (Section 307); (2) conventional (Section 304) and (3) non-toxic, non-conventional.

To aid in regulation of waterways, the FWPCA established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES; Title VI of the FWPCA; NPDES Link). This section of the FWPCA regulates the amount and concentrations of chemical pollutants discharged to waterways. The NPDES established a permit program (the Pollution Permit and State Control Permitting Process, Section 402) through which point source emitted may obtain a permit to emit pollutants into waterways. This system also helps EPA track waterway pollution. The water pollution permits obtain under section 402 requires that discharge be monitored and reported to EPA (Section 122.41(j)).

States may require more stringent regulations than the minimums standards established by the NPDES requirements. Under NPDES the EPA monitors water emissions in an effort to ensure compliance (Compliance Link).

Allowable emissions are identified under the Effluent Guidelines and Standards (Section 307(a)). Other water quality conditions are regulated under the Water Quality Standard sections (302, 303, and 304). Emissions are also regulated by various control technology criteria (ie., Best Practicable Control Technology, 33 U.S.C. Section 1311(b)(1) which establish minimum standards for classes of industrial pollutants; Best Conventional Pollution Control Technology, 33 U.S.C. Section 1314(a), which balances control costs against the benefits of a more stringent control requirement; Best Available Control Technology, 33 U.S.C. 1317 (a)(2), the most stringent water pollution control technology established relative to the best performing facilities in an industry).

The Water Quality Standards (WQS) section of the FWPCA (Sections 302, 303, an 304) effects water bodies that fail to meet environmental standards. When a body of water fails to meet standards, the WQS requires that more stringent NDPES standards apply to facilities impacting the water quality. One of the standards that must be assessed when water quality standards are not being met are the total maximum daily loads (TMDL) for a waterway. When water quality improvements are required, TMDL for individual facilities can be made more stringent by altering a facility’s water pollution permit requirements.
 
 
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