Clean Water Act
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Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act is the primary federal
law in the United States governing water pollution. Passed in 1972, the objective of the Federal
Water Pollution Control Act, commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act, is to restore and
maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters by preventing
point and nonpoint pollution sources, providing assistance to publicly owned treatment works
for the improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands.
The principal body of law in effect is based on the Federal Water Pollution Control Act
Amendments of 1972 which was a significant expansion of the Federal Water Pollution Control
Act of 1948. Major amendments were enacted in the Clean Water Act of 1977 and the Water
Quality Act of 1987. The Clean Water Act does not directly address
groundwater contamination. Groundwater protection provisions are included in the Safe Drinking
Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Superfund act. Waters protected under the CWA
All waters with a “significant nexus” to “navigable waters” are covered under the CWA; however,
the phrase “significant nexus” remains open to judicial interpretation and considerable
controversy. The 1972 statute frequently uses the term “navigable waters,” but also defines
the term as “waters of the United States, including the territorial seas.” Some regulations
interpreting the 1972 law have included water features such as intermittent streams, playa
lakes, prairie potholes, sloughs and wetlands as “waters of the United States.” In the 2006
case Rapanos v. United States, a plurality of the Supreme Court held that the term “waters
of the United States”: …includes only those relatively permanent,
standing or continuously flowing bodies of water “forming geographic features” that are
described in ordinary parlance as “streams[,] … oceans, rivers, [and] lakes.”
Pollution control strategy in the CWA Point sources
The 1972 act introduced the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, which is a permit
system for regulating point sources of pollution. Point sources include:
industrial facilities. municipal governments and other government
facilities, and some agricultural facilities, such as animal
feedlots. Point sources may not discharge pollutants
to surface waters without a permit from the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
This system is managed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in partnership
with state environmental agencies. EPA has authorized 46 states to issue permits directly
to the discharging facilities. The CWA also allows tribes to issue permits, but no tribes
have been authorized by EPA. In the remaining states and territories, the permits are issued
by an EPA regional office. In previous legislation, Congress had authorized
states to develop water quality standards, which would limit discharges from facilities
based on the characteristics of individual water bodies. However, these standards were
only to be developed for interstate waters, and the science to support this process was
in the early stages of development. This system was not effective and there was no permit
system in place to enforce the requirements. In the 1972 CWA Congress added the permit
system and a requirement for technology-based effluent limitations.
Technology-based standards The 1972 CWA created a new requirement for
technology-based standards for point source discharges. EPA develops these standards for
categories of dischargers, based on the performance of pollution control technologies without
regard to the conditions of a particular receiving water body. The intent of Congress was to
create a “level playing field” by establishing a basic national discharge standard for all
facilities within a category, using a “Best Available Technology.” The standard becomes
the minimum regulatory requirement in a permit. If the national standard is not sufficiently
protective at a particular location, then water quality standards may be employed.
Water quality standards The 1972 act authorized continued use of the
water quality-based approach, but in coordination with the technology-based standards. After
application of technology-based standards to a permit, if water quality is still impaired
for the particular water body, then the permit agency may add water quality-based limitations
to that permit. The additional limitations are to be more stringent than the technology-based
limitations and would require the permittee to install additional controls. Water quality
standards consist of four basic elements: 1) Designated uses; 2) Water quality criteria;
3) Antidegradation policy and 4) General policies. Designated uses
According to water quality standard regulations, states and Indian tribes are required to specify
appropriate water uses. Identification of appropriate water uses takes into consideration
the usage and value of public water supply, protection of fish, wildlife, recreational
waters, agricultural, industrial and navigational water ways. Suitability of a water body is
examined by states and tribes for usages based on physical, chemical, and biological characteristics.
States and Indian tribes also examine geographical settings, scenic qualities and economic considerations
to determine fitness of designated uses for a water bodies. If these standards indicate
designated uses to be less than those presently attained, states or tribes are required to
revise standards to reflect the uses actually being attained. For any body of water with
designated uses that do not include “fishable/swimmable” target use that is identified in section 101(a)(2)
of CWA, a Use Attainability Analysis must be conducted. Every three years, such bodies
of water must be reexamined in order to verify if new information is available that demand
a revision of the standard. If new information is available that specify “fishable/swimmable”
uses can be attained, then the use must be designated.
Water quality criteria States and tribes protect designated areas
by adopting water quality criteria that allow them to adopt the criteria that EPA publishes
under §304(a) of the CWA, modify the §304(a) criteria to reflect site-specific conditions
or adopt criteria based on other scientifically defensible methods. Water quality criteria
can be numeric criteria that toxicity causes are known for protection against pollutants.
A narrative criterion is water quality criteria in which serves as basis for limiting toxicity
of waste discharge to aquatic species. A biological criterion is based on aquatic community which
describes the number and types of species in a water body. A nutrient criterion solely
protects against nutrient over enrichment; and a sediment criterion describes conditions
of contaminated and uncontaminated sediments in order to avoid undesirable effects.
Anti-degradation policy Water quality standards consist of an anti-degradation
policy that requires states and tribes to establish a three-tiered anti-degradation
program. Anti-degradation procedures identify steps and questions that need to be addressed
when specific activities affect water quality. Tier 1 is applicable to all surface waters.
It maintains and protects current uses and water quality conditions to support existing
uses. Current uses are identified by showing that fishing, swimming, and other water uses
have occurred and are suitable since November 28, 1975. Tier 2 maintains and protects water
bodies with existing conditions that are better to support CWA 101(a)(2) “fishable/swimmable”
uses. Tier 3 maintains and protects water quality in outstanding national resource waters,
which are the highest quality waters in the US with ecological significance.
General policies States and Indian tribes adopt general policies
pertaining to water quality standards that are subject to review and approval by the
EPA. These provision regarding water quality standards include mixing zones, variance,
and low flow policies. Mixing zone policy is defined area surrounding a point source
discharge where sewage is diluted by water. Methodology of mixing zone procedure determines
the location, size, shape and quality of mixing zones. Variance policy temporarily relax water
quality standard and are alternatives to removing a designated use. States and tribes may include
variance as part of their water quality standard. Variance is subject to public review every
three years and warrant development towards improvement of water quality. Low Flow policy
pertains to states and tribes water quality standards that identify procedures applied
to determining critical low flow conditions. Nonpoint sources Congress exempted some water pollution sources
from the point source definition in the 1972 CWA, and was unclear on the status of some
other sources. These sources were therefore considered to be nonpoint sources that were
not subject to the permit program. Agricultural stormwater discharges and irrigation
return flows were specifically exempted from permit requirements. Congress, however, provided
support for research, technical and financial assistance programs at the U.S. Department
of Agriculture to improve runoff management practices on farms. See Natural Resources
Conservation Service. Stormwater runoff from industrial sources,
municipal storm drains, and other sources were not specifically addressed in the 1972
law. EPA declined to include urban runoff and industrial stormwater discharges in the
NPDES program and consequently was sued by an environmental group. The courts ruled that
stormwater discharges must be covered by the permit program.
A growing body of water research during the late 1970s and 1980s indicated that stormwater
runoff was a significant cause of water quality impairment in many parts of the U.S. In the
early 1980s EPA conducted the Nationwide Urban Runoff Program to document the extent of the
urban stormwater problem. The agency began to develop regulations for stormwater permit
coverage, but encountered resistance from industry and municipalities, and there were
additional rounds of litigation. This litigation was pending when Congress considered further
amendments to the Act in 1986. In the Water Quality Act of 1987 Congress
responded to the stormwater problem by requiring that industrial stormwater dischargers and
municipal separate storm sewer systems obtain NPDES permits, by specific deadlines. The
permit exemption for agricultural discharges continued, but Congress created a nonpoint
source pollution demonstration grant program at EPA to expand the research and development
of nonpoint controls and management practices. To combat nonpoint source pollution, EPA initiated
numerous programs and grants to aid the public in improving their local water quality. These
programs are described at an EPA website, Watershed Central.
Financing of pollution controls Congress created a major public works financing
program for municipal sewage treatment in the 1972 CWA. A system of grants for construction
of municipal sewage treatment plants was authorized and funded in Title II. In the initial program
the federal portion of each grant was up to 75 percent of a facility’s capital cost, with
the remainder financed by the state. In subsequent amendments Congress reduced the federal proportion
of the grants and in the 1987 WQA transitioned to a revolving loan program in Title VI. Industrial
and other private facilities are required to finance their own treatment improvements
on the “polluter pays” principle. Major statutory provisions
This Act has six titles. Title I – Research and Related Programs
Title I includes a Declaration of Goals and Policy and various grant authorizations for
research programs and pollution control programs. Some of the programs authorized by the 1972
law are ongoing while other programs no longer receive funds from Congress and have been
discontinued. Title II – Grants for Construction of Treatment
Works To assist municipalities in creating or expanding
sewage treatment plants, also known as publicly owned treatment works, Title II established
a system of construction grants. This was replaced by the Clean Water State Revolving
Fund in the 1987 WQA. See Title VI. Title III – Standards and enforcement
Discharge permits required Section 301 of the Act prohibits discharges
to waters of the U.S. except with a permit. Technology-Based Standards Program
Under the 1972 act EPA began to issue technology-based standards for municipal and industrial sources.
Municipal sewage treatment plants are required to meet secondary treatment standards.
Effluent guidelines and New Source Performance Standards are issued for categories of industrial
facilities discharging directly to surface waters.
Categorical Pretreatment Standards are issued to industrial users contributing wastes to
POTW. These standards are developed in conjunction with the effluent guidelines program. As with
effluent guidelines and NSPS, pretreatment standards consists of Pretreatment Standards
for Existing Sources and Pretreatment Standards for New Sources. There are 27 categories with
pretreatment standards as of 2011. To date, the effluent guidelines and categorical
pretreatment standards regulations have been published for 56 categories and apply to between
35,000 and 45,000 facilities that discharge directly to the nation’s waters. These regulations
are responsible for preventing the discharge of almost 700 billion pounds of pollutants
each year. EPA has updated some categories since their initial promulgation and has added
new categories. The secondary treatment standards for POTWs
and the effluent guidelines are implemented through NPDES permits. The categorical pretreatment
standards are typically implemented by POTWs through permits that they issue to their industrial
users. Water Quality Standards Program
Water quality standards are risk-based requirements which set site-specific allowable pollutant
levels for individual water bodies, such as rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. States
set WQS by designating uses for the water body and applying water quality criteria to
protect the designated uses. An antidegradation policy is also issued by each state to maintain
and protect existing uses and high quality waters.
Water bodies that do not meet applicable water quality standards with technology-based controls
alone are placed on the section 303(d) list of water bodies not meeting standards. Water
bodies on the 303(d) list require development of a Total Maximum Daily Load. A TMDL is a
calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet
WQS. The TMDL is determined after study of the specific properties of the water body
and the pollutant sources that contribute to the non-compliant status. Generally, the
TMDL determines load based on a Waste Load Allocation, Load Allocation, and Margin of
Safety Once the TMDL assessment is completed and the maximum pollutant loading capacity
defined, an implementation plan is developed that outlines the measures needed to reduce
pollutant loading to the non-compliant water body, and bring it into compliance. Over 60,000
TMDLs are proposed or in development for U.S. waters in the next decade and a half.
Following the issuance of a TMDL for a water body, implementation of the requirements involves
modification to NPDES permits for facilities discharging to the water body to meet the
WLA allocated to the water body. As of 2007, approximately half of the rivers,
lakes, and bays under EPA oversight were not safe enough for fishing and swimming. The
development of WQS and TMDL is a complex process, both scientifically and legally, and it is
a resource-intensive process for state agencies. National Water Quality Inventory
The primary mode of informing the quality of water of rivers, lakes, streams, ponds,
estuaries, coastal waters and wetlands of the U.S. is through the National Water Quality
Inventory Report. Water quality assessments are conducted pursuant to water quality standards
adopted by states and other jurisdictions. The report is conveyed to Congress as a means
to inform Congress and the public of compliance with quality standards established by states,
territories and tribes. The assessments identify water quality problems within the states and
jurisdictions, list the impaired and threatened water bodies, and identify non-point sources
that contribute to poor water quality. Every two years states must submit reports that
describe water quality conditions to EPA with a complete inquiry of social and economic
costs and benefits of achieving goals of the Act. The report is organized into two major
sections; Section 1 shows national assessment of each type of water body, with causes and
sources identified. Section 2 summarizes recommendations on improvement of water resource management.
Enforcement Under section 309, EPA can issue administrative
orders against violators, and seek civil or criminal penalties when necessary.
For a first offense of criminal negligence, the minimum fine is $2,500, with a maximum
of $25,000 fine per day of violation. A violator may also receive up to a year in jail. On
a second offense, a maximum fine of $50,000 per day may be issued.
For a knowing endangerment violation, i.e. placing another person in imminent danger
of death or serious bodily injury, a fine may be issued up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment
up to 15 years for an individual, or up to $1,000,000 for an organization.
States that are authorized by EPA to administer the NPDES program must have authority to enforce
permit requirements under their respective state laws.
Federal facilities Military bases, national parks and other federal
facilities must comply with CWA provisions. Thermal pollution
Section 316 requires standards for thermal pollution discharges, as well as standards
for cooling water intake structures. These standards are applicable to power plants and
other industrial facilities. Nonpoint Source Management Program
The 1987 amendments created the Nonpoint Source Management Program under CWA section 319.
This program provides grants to states, territories and Indian tribes to support demonstration
projects, technology transfer, education, training, technical assistance and related
activities designed to reduce nonpoint source pollution. Grant funding for the program averaged
$210 million annually for Fiscal Years 2004 through 2008.
Title IV – Permits and licenses State certification of compliance
States are required to certify that discharges authorized by federal permits will not violate
the state’s water quality standards. NPDES permits for point sources
The NPDES permit program is authorized by CWA section 402. The initial permits issued
in the 1970s and early 1980s focused on POTWs and industrial wastewater—typically “process”
wastewater and cooling water where applicable, and in some cases, industrial stormwater.
The 1987 WQA expanded the program to cover stormwater discharges explicitly, both from
municipal separate storm sewer systems and industrial sources. The MS4 NPDES permits
require regulated municipalities to use Best Management Practices to reduce pollutants
to the “Maximum Extent Practicable.” Non-stormwater permits typically include numeric
effluent limitations for specific pollutants. A numeric limitation quantifies the maximum
pollutant load or concentration allowed in the discharge, e.g., 30 mg/L of biochemical
oxygen demand. Exceeding a numeric limitation constitutes a violation of the permit, and
the discharger is subject to fines as laid out in section 309. Facilities must periodically
monitor their effluent, and submit Discharge Monitoring Reports to the appropriate agency,
to demonstrate compliance. Stormwater permits typically require facilities to prepare a
Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan and implement best management practices, but do not specify
numeric effluent limits and may not include regular monitoring requirements. Some permits
cover both stormwater and non-stormwater discharges. NPDES permits must be reissued every five
years. Permit agencies must provide notice to the public of pending permits and provide
an opportunity for public comment. As of 2001, over 400,000 facilities were subject
to NPDES permit requirements. This number includes permanent facilities such as municipal
and industrial plants, and construction sites, which are temporary stormwater dischargers.
Dredge and fill exemptions After passage of the CWA in 1972, a controversy
arose as to its application to agriculture and certain other activities. The Act was
interpreted by some to place restrictions on virtually all placement of dredged materials
in wetlands and other waters of the United States, raising concern that the federal government
was about to place all agricultural activities under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps
of Engineers. For opponents of the Act, section 404 had, as a result of this concern, become
a symbol of dramatic over-regulation. When Congress considered the 1977 CWA Amendments,
a significant issue was to ensure that certain agricultural activities and other selected
activities, could continue without the government’s supervision—in other words, completely outside
the regulatory or permit jurisdiction of any federal agency.
The 1977 amendments included a set of six section 404 exemptions. For example, totally
new activities such as construction of farm roads, Sec. 1344(f)(1)(E), construction of
farm or stock ponds or irrigation ditches, and minor agricultural drainage, Sec. 1344(f)(1)(A),
all are exempted by Statute. Section 1344(f)(1)(C), which exempts discharge of dredged material
“for the purpose of. . . the maintenance of drainage ditches.” All of these exemptions
were envisioned to be self-executing, that is not technically requiring an administrative
no-jurisdiction determination. One such example was the maintenance of agricultural drainage
ditches. Throughout the hearing process, Congressmen of every environmental persuasion repeatedly
stated that the over $5 Billion invested in drainage facilities could be maintained without
government regulation of any kind. Senator Edmund Muskie, for example, explained that
exempt activities such as agricultural drainage would be entirely unregulated. Other exemptions
were granted as well, including exemptions for normal farming activities.
Importance of no-jurisdiction determinations Although Congress envisioned a set of self-executing
exemptions, it has become common for landowners to seek no-jurisdiction determinations from
the USACE. A landowner who intends to make substantial investments in acquisition or
improvement of land might lawfully proceed with exempt activity, a permit not being required.
The problem is that if the landowner’s assumptions were incorrect and the activity later determined
not to be exempt, the USACE will issue a cease and desist order. Obtaining an advanced ruling
provides some level of comfort that the activities will have been deemed conducted in good faith.
Recapture of exemptions Because some of the six exemptions involved
new activities, such as minor drainage and silviculture, Congress recognized the need
to impose some limitations on exemptions. Consequently, Congress placed the so-called
recapture clause limitation on these new project exemptions. Under section 404(f)(2), such
new projects would be deprived of their exemption if all of the following three characteristics
could be shown: A discharge of dredge or fill material in
the navigable waters of the United States; The discharge is incidental to an activity
having as its purpose the bringing of an area of navigable waters into a use to which it
was not previously subject, and Where the flow or circulation of navigable
waters may be impaired or the reach of such waters may be reduced.
To remove the exemption, all of these requirements must be fulfilled—the discharge, the project
purpose of bringing an area into a use to which it was not previously subject, and the
impairment or reduction of navigable waters. Dredge and fill permits
Under sections 301 and 502 of the Clean Water Act, any discharge of dredged or fill materials
into “waters of the United States,” including wetlands, is forbidden unless authorized by
a permit issued by the USACE pursuant to section 404. Essentially, all discharges of fill or
dredged material affecting the bottom elevation of a jurisdictional water of the U.S. require
a permit from USACE. These permits are an essential part of protecting wetlands, which
are often filled by land developers. Wetlands are vital to the ecosystem in filtering streams
and rivers and providing habitat for wildlife. Mountaintop removal mining requires a section
404 permit when soil and rock from the mining operation is placed in streams and wetlands.
Pollutant discharges from valley fills to streams also requires an NPDES permit.
There are two main types of wetlands permits: general permits and individual permits. General
permits change periodically and cover broad categories of activities, and require the
user to comply with all stated conditions. General permits are issued for fill activities
that will result in minimal adverse effects to the environment. Individual permits are
utilized for actions that are not addressed by a general permit, or that do not meet the
conditions of a General Permit. In addition, individual permits typically require more
analysis than do the general permits, and usually require much more time to prepare
the application and to process the permit. When the USACE processes an application for
an Individual Permit, it must publish/issue a public notice describing the proposed action
described in the permit application. The public notice must be issued no later than fifteen
days after the Corps determines the application to be complete. Although the Corps District
Engineer makes the decision to grant a permit, the EPA Administrator may veto a permit if
it is not reasonable. Before making such a decision, however, EPA must consult with the
USACE. A wetlands permit expires after five years.
When a state wants a permit, they make sure that all other states being affected are aware
they will be sent a copy of the request and the state is able to write a recommendation.
A state permit also expires after five years. In order to avoid getting a permit, contractors
will often use a water-filled cofferdam to isolate work areas without putting fill into
the body of water. POTW Biosolids Management Program
The 1987 WQA created a program for management of biosolids generated by POTWs. The Act instructed
EPA to develop guidelines for usage and disposal of sewage sludge or biosolids. The EPA regulations:
Identify uses for sewage sludge, including disposal; Specify factors to be taken into
account in determining the measures and practices applicable to each such use or disposal; and
Identify concentrations of pollutants which interfere with each such use or disposal.
EPA created an Intra-Agency Sludge Task Force to aid in developing comprehensive sludge
regulations that are designed to do the following: Conduct a multimedia examination of sewage
sludge management, focusing on sewage sludge generated by POTWs; and develop a cohesive
Agency policy on sewage sludge management, designed to guide the Agency in implementing
sewage sludge regulatory and management programs. The term biosolids is used to differentiate
treated sewage sludge that can be beneficially recycled. Environmental advantages of sewage
sludge consist of, application of sludge to land due to its soil condition properties
and nutrient content. Advantages also extend to reduction in adverse health effects of
incineration, decreased chemical fertilizer dependency, diminishing greenhouse gas emissions
deriving from incineration and reduction in incineration fuel and energy costs. Beneficial
reuse of sewage sludge is supported in EPA policies: the 1984 Beneficial Reuse Policy
and the 1991 Inter-agency Policy on Beneficial Use of Sewage Sludge, with an objective to
reduce volumes of waste generated. Sewage sludge contains nutrients such as nitrogen
and phosphorus but also contains significant numbers of pathogens such as bacteria, viruses,
protozoa and eggs of parasitic worms. Sludge also contains more than trace amounts of organic
and inorganic chemicals. Benefits of reusing sewage sludge from use of organic and nutrient
content in biosolids is valuable source in improving marginal lands and serving as supplements
to fertilizers and soil conditioners. Extension of benefits of sludge on agriculture commodities
include increase forest productivity, accelerated tree growth, re-vegetation of forest land
previously devastated by natural disasters or construction activities. Also, sewage sludge
use to aid growth of final vegetative cap for municipal solid waste landfills is enormously
beneficial. Opposing benefits of sludge water result from high levels of pathogenic organisms
that can possibly contaminate soil, water, crops, livestock, and fish. Pathogens, metals,
organic chemical content and odors are cause of major health, environmental and aesthetic
factors. Sludge treatment processes reduce the level of pathogens which becomes important
when applying sludge to land as well as distributing and marketing it. Pollutants of sewage sludge
come from domestic wastewater, discharge of industrial wastewater, municipal sewers and
also from runoffs from parking lots, lawns and fields that were applied fertilizers,
pesticides and insecticides. The quality of sewage sludge is controlled
under section 405(d), where limitations are set with methods of use or disposal for pollutants
in sludge. EPA, under section 405(d)(3), established a containment approach to limit pollutants
instead of numerical limitations. This methodology is more reasonable than numerical limitations
and includes design standards, equipment standards, management practice, and operational standards
or combination of these. Limits on sewage sludge quality allows treatment works that
generate less contaminated pollutants and those that do not meet the sludge quality
standards for use and disposal practice must clean up influent, improve sewage sludge treatment
and/or select another use of disposal method. EPA has set standards for appropriate practices
of use and disposal of biosolids in order to protect public health and the environment,
but choice of use or disposal practices are reserved to local communities. Listed under
section 405(e) of CWA, local communities are encouraged to use their sewage sludge for
its beneficial properties instead of disposing it.
Standards are set for sewage sludge generated or treated by publicly owned and privately
owned treatment works that treat domestic sewage and municipal wastewater. Materials
flushed in household drains through sinks, toilets and tubs are referred to as domestic
wastewater and include components of soaps, shampoos, human excrement, tissues, food particles,
pesticides, hazardous waste, oil and grease. These domestic wastewaters are treated at
the source in septic tanks, cesspools, portable toilets, or in publicly/privately owned wastewater
treatment works. Alternately, municipal wastewater treatments consist of more levels of treatment
that provide greater wastewater cleanup with larger amounts of sewage sludge. Primary municipal
treatment remove solids that settle at the bottom, generating more than 3,000 liters
of sludge per million liters of wastewater that is treated. Primary sludge water content
is easily reduced by thickening or removing water and contains up to 7% solids. Secondary
municipal treatment process produces sewage sludge that is generated by biological treatment
processes that include activated sludge systems, trickling filters, and other attached growth
systems. Microbes are used to break down and convert organic substances in wastewater to
microbial residue in biological treatment processes. This process removes up to 90%
of organic matter and produces sludge that contains up to 2% solids and has increased
generated volumes of sludge. Methods of use and disposal of sewage sludge include the
following: Application of sludge to agricultural and non-agricultural lands; sale or give-away
of sludge for use in home gardens; disposal of sludge in municipal landfills, sludge-only
landfills, surface disposal sites and incineration of sludge. Managing quality of sewage sludge
not only involves wastewater reduction and separation of contaminated waste from non-contaminants
but also pretreatment of non-domestic wastewater. Pretreatment does not thoroughly reduce pollutants
level and therefore communities have to dispose rather than use sludge.
Title V – General Provisions Citizen suits
Any U.S. citizen may file a citizen suit against any person who has allegedly violated an effluent
limitation regulation or against the EPA Administrator if the EPA Administrator failed to perform
any non-discretionary act or duty required by the CWA.
Employee protection The CWA includes an employee protection provision.
Employees in the U.S. who believe they were fired or suffered adverse action related to
enforcement of the CWA may file a written complaint with the Occupational Safety and
Health Administration. Title VI – State Water Pollution Control Revolving
Funds The Clean Water State Revolving Fund program
was authorized by the 1987 WQA. This replaced the municipal construction grants program,
which was authorized in the 1972 law under Title II. In the CWSRF, federal funds are
provided to the states and Puerto Rico to capitalize their respective revolving funds,
which are used to provide financial assistance to local governments for wastewater treatment,
nonpoint source pollution control and estuary protection.
The fund provides loans to municipalities at lower-than-market rates. As of 2009 the
average rate was 2.3 percent nationwide, compared to an average market rate of 5 percent. In
2009, CWSRF assistance totaling $5.2 billion was provided to 1,971 local projects across
the country. Earlier legislation
During the 1880s and 1890s, Congress directed USACE to prevent dumping and filling in the
nation’s harbors, and the program was vigorously enforced. Congress first addressed water pollution
issues in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899, giving the Corps the authority to regulate
most kinds of obstructions to navigation, including hazards resulting from effluents.
Portions of this law remain in effect, including Section 13, the so-called Refuse Act. In 1910,
USACE used the act to object to a proposed sewer in New York City, but a court ruled
that pollution control was a matter left to the states alone. Speaking to the 1911 National
Rivers and Harbors Congress, the chief of the Corps, Brigadier General William H. Bixby,
suggested that modern treatment facilities and prohibitions on dumping “should either
be made compulsory or at least encouraged everywhere in the United States.”
Some sections of the 1899 act have been superseded by various amendments, including the 1972
CWA, while other notable legislative predecessors include:
Public Health Service Act of 1912 expanded the mission of the United States Public Health
Service to study problems of sanitation, sewage and pollution.
Oil Pollution Act of 1924 prohibited the intentional discharge of fuel oil into tidal waters and
provided authorization for USACE to apprehend violators. This was repealed by the 1972 CWA,
reducing the Corps’ role in pollution control to the discharge of dredged or fill material.
Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 created a comprehensive set of water quality
programs that also provided some financing for state and local governments. Enforcement
was limited to interstate waters. The Public Health Service provided financial and technical
assistance. Water Quality Act of 1965 required states
to issue water quality standards for interstate waters, and authorized the newly created Federal
Water Pollution Control Administration to set standards where states failed to do so.
Case law United States v. Riverside Bayview Homes,
Inc.. The Supreme Court upheld the Act’s coverage in regulating wetlands that intermingle with
navigable waters. This ruling was revised by the 2006 Rapanos decision.
Edward Hanousek, Jr v. United States. In 1994, during rock removal operations, a backhoe
operator accidentally struck a petroleum pipeline near the railroad tracks. The operator’s
mistake caused the pipeline to rupture and spill between 1,000 and 5,000 gallons of heating
oil into the Skagway river. Despite not being present at the scene during operations White
Pass and Yukon Route Roadmaster Edward Hanousek, Jr. and President Paul Taylor were both held
responsible for the spill and convicted. Solid Waste Agency of North Cook County v.
United States Army Corps of Engineers, possibly denying the CWA’s hold in isolated intrastate
waters and certainly denying the validity of the 1986 “Migratory Bird Rule.”
S. D. Warren Co. v. Maine Bd. of Env. Protection. The Court ruled that section 401 state certification
requirements apply to hydroelectric dams, which are federally licensed, where the dams
cause a discharge into navigable waters. Rapanos v. United States. The Supreme Court
questioned federal jurisdiction as it attempted to define the Act’s use of the terms “navigable
waters” and “waters of the United States.” The Court rejected the position of the USACE
that its authority over water was essentially limitless. Though the case resulted in no
binding case law, the Court suggested a narrowing of federal jurisdiction and implied the federal
government needed a more substantial link between navigable federal waters and wetlands
than it had been using, but held onto the “significant nexus” test.
Recent developments Senator Sherrod Brown introduced S. 2094,
the “Clean Water Affordability Act of 2012,” on February 9, 2012, to update the CWA program
for addressing combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows.
See also Great Lakes Areas of Concern
Ocean Dumping Act Water supply and sanitation in the United
States Oil Pollution Act of 1990
References External links
CWA text and analysis Works related to Clean Water Act at Wikisource
Clean Water Act – Full text with amendments through 2011-01-04. Maintained by California
Water Resources Control Board. “Clean Water Act Jurisdictional Handbook.”
Environmental Law Institute NYT Investigation: Corporations Violated Clean
Water Act Over 500,000 Times in Last Five Years – video report by Democracy Now!
EPA programs Clean Water State Revolving Fund
National Water Quality Inventory Report to Congress – also called the “305(b) Report.”
Nonpoint Source Management Program Total Maximum Daily Loads Program
Historical legislative documents 92nd U.S. Congress. “S. 2770, Federal Water
Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972”. 86 U.S. Stats. 816. U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.
Retrieved September 11, 2013.  Research programs
Center for TMDL and Watershed Studies Virginia Tech
Water Environment Research Foundation

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