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The clean water act

The Clean Water Act (CWA) had its original basis set in 1948, which “made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). According to a CWA History site, (Clean Water Act's history) in the 1960's some lakes, such as the Cuyahoga River, were so heavily polluted that they spontaneously combusted. In 1969 there was an oil spill, around the coast of Santa Barbara that soiled the water and harmed animals. The details of stories like this became so alarming to the nation's public that people became very concerned about the nation's waters and decided to take action.

The Environmental Protection Agency's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program regulates discharges. Sources of the discharge include discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches. Homes that are connected to a city drainage system, or septic system, or have no surface discharge do not need a permit. Conversely, industrial, municipal, and other facilities need to obtain permits if their discharges go directly to surface waters (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

The first Federal Water Pollution Control Act that addressed water pollution was enacted in 1948. The Act grew public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution and also led to amendments in 1972. In 1977, more broad amendments were enacted that:

  • Established the basic structure for regulating pollutants and discharges into the waters of the United States.
  • 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 into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained under its provisions.
  • Funded the construction of sewage treatment plants
  • Recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by non-point source pollution.

Subsequent amendments modified some of the earlier CWA provisions. In 1981 revisions were made to streamline the municipal construction grants process. This improved the capabilities of treatment plants, built under the program. Changes in 1987 systematically phased out the construction grants program, replacing it with the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund. It is more commonly known as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This new funding strategy closely monitored and regulated water quality needs by building on EPA-state partnerships.

Throughout the years, several laws have changed sections of the Clean Water Act. Title 1 of the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act of 1990 enacted rules by which the United States and Canada agreed to reduce certain toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes. That law required EPA to establish water quality standards for the Great Lakes which address twenty-nine toxic pollutants with maximum levels that are safe for humans, wildlife, and aquatic life. It also required EPA to help the States implement the criteria on a specific schedule (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

How much does it cost to implement the CWA?  Precise costs to manage non-point source pollution are not available, but in 1994 EPA estimated that spending by private sources, states, and cities under provisions of current law is between $750 million and $1.1 billion per year. According to a US Environmental Protection Agency report in 2004, approximately $202.5 billion per year are the costs for the CWA.  The cost estimates are updated every four years by the agency. The survey is used as a gage to plan for the capital needed to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act. Data is collected for every publicly owned wastewater treatment facility, storm-water and Combined Sewer Overflows control facility, and non-point Source Pollution (NPS) controls. The final report is sent to Congress as a source of valuable information about budgetary needs and is also used measure environmental progress. According to the new data, by the year 2020, the United States will need to spend $21 billion per year to meet capital expenditures for wastewater treatment, compared with about $9.4 billion being spent annually now (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).              

In conclusion, waters in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries are receiving protection. The chemical state of surface waters has improved in a dramatic way. Many creeks have been restored all over the world. All these things are due to the 30 years that the CWA has been in progress. Because of the help received by the CWA, we have had clean water that has kept us healthy and has saved wildlife and also plant life.