The Clean Water

Drinking water standards are not the only regulations we need to comply with in the U.S. Today's Clean Water Act has its origins from the late 1940s. The original 1948 statute (Chapter 758; PL 845), the Water Pollution Control Act, authorized the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, in cooperation with other federal, state, and local entities, to prepare comprehensive programs for eliminating or reducing the pollution of interstate waters and tributaries and improving the sanitary condition of surface and underground waters. Since 1948, the original statute has been amended extensively to authorize additional water quality programs, standards and procedures to govern allowable discharges, and funding for construction grants or general programs. Amendments in other years provided for continued authority to conduct program activities or administrative changes to related activities. This legislation was originally enacted as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1972, and was amended in 1977 and renamed the Clean Water Act. It was reauthorized in 1991.

The Clean Water Act strives to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's water. The act sets up a system of water quality standards, discharge limitations, and permits. If a project may result in the placement of material into waters, a Corps of Engineers' Dredge and Fill Permit (Section 404) may be required. The permit also pertains to activities in wetlands and riparian areas. Certain Federal projects may be exempt from the requirements of Section 404, if the conditions set forth in section 404(r) are met. Before either a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) (Section 402) or Section 404 permit can be issued, the applicant must obtain a Section 401 certification. This declaration states that any discharge complies with all applicable effluent limitations and water quality standards.

If the water quality of a water body is potentially affected by a proposed action (e.g., construction of a wastewater treatment plant), a NPDES permit may be required. The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for this program; however, in most cases, has turned this responsibility over to the states as long as the individual state program is acceptable.

Section 319, Nonpoint Source Management Programs, was added to the Clean Water Act by PL 100-4 to have the states establish nonpoint source management plans designed. Section 319 (k) requires each Federal department and agency to allow states to review individual development projects and assistance applications and accommodate, in accordance with Executive Order 12372, the concerns of the state regarding the consistency of these applications or projects with the state nonpoint source pollution management program.

Congress enacted the most recent major amendments to the Clean Water Act in 1987 (P.L. 100-4). Since then, the EPA, states, and others have been working to implement the many program changes and additions mandated in the law. At issue today, as it has been for some time, is what progress EPA and the states are making. In general, many states and environmental groups fault EPA for delays in issuing guidance and assistance needed to carry out the provisions of the law. EPA and others are critical of states, in turn, for not reaching beyond conventional knowledge and institutional approaches to address their water quality problems. Environmental groups have been criticized for insufficient recognition of EPA's and states' need for flexibility to implement the Act. Finally, Congress has been criticized for not providing adequate funding and resources to meet EPA and state needs.

Three issues have predominated recently in connection with implementation of the law. The first involves implementation of requirements under current law for states to develop total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) to restore pollution-impaired waters. The second issue involves the nonpoint pollution management provisions added in 1987. States are developing management programs describing methods that will be used to reduce nonpoint pollution, which may be responsible for as much as 50% of the nation's remaining water quality problems. Most observers agree that implementation of nonpoint source control measures is significantly hindered by lack of resources, including federal assistance. EPA adopted program guidance intended to give states more flexibility and to speed up progress in nonpoint source control. The third issue is funding to construct municipal wastewater treatment plants under the State Revolving Fund provisions of the 1987

amendments. Budgetary constraints on federal aid for wastewater treatment and large remaining funding needs are a continuing concern. Since 1993, EPA has begun a number of agency-wide and program-specific reforms focusing on flexibility and "common sense" approaches to regulation. Many of these will affect implementation of water quality programs. In February 1998, the Clinton Administration released a multi-agency Clean Water Action Plan intended to build on the environmental successes of the Act and address the nation's remaining water quality challenges. But a new administration in the White House may alter this. Reauthorization of the Act was on the agenda of the 104th Congress, when the House passed H.R. 961, but no Clean Water Act amendments were enacted. Comprehensive legislation was not introduced in the 105th Congress, and no major House or Senate committee activity occurred. Similarly, no major activity occurred in the 106th Congress, although there was action on individual program areas within the Act. Recent attention has focused on new EPA rules for the Act's TMDL program. Congressional oversight of the TMDL program is likely in the 107th Congress (see CRS Issue Brief IB 10069, Clean Water Act Issues in the 1071' Congress.)

For our discussions, it is important to recognize that the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, or Clean Water Act, is the principal law governing pollution in the nation's streams, lakes, and estuaries. Originally enacted in 1948, it was totally revised by amendments in 1972 (P.L. 92-500) that gave the Act its current form and spelled out ambitious programs for water quality improvements that are now being put in place by industries and cities. Congress made certain fine-tuning amendments in 1977 (P.L. 95-217) and 1981 (P.L. 97-117). The Act consists of two major parts: regulatory provisions that impose progressively more stringent requirements on industries and cities in order to meet the statutory goal of zero discharge of pollutants, and provisions that authorize federal financial assistance for municipal wastewater treatment construction. Industries were to meet pollution control limits first by use of Best Practicable Technology (BPTs) and later by improved Best Available Technology (BAT). Cities were to achieve secondary treatment of municipal wastewater (roughly 85% removal of conventional wastes), or better if needed to meet water quality standards. Both major parts are supported by research activities authorized in the law, plus permit and penalty provisions for enforcement. These programs are administered by the EPA, while state and local governments have the principal day-to-day responsibility for implementing the law. The most recent amendments, enacted in February 1987, are the Water Quality Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-4). These amendments culminated 6 years of congressional efforts to extend and revise the Act and are the most comprehensive amendments to it since 1972. They recognize that, despite much progress to date, significant water quality problems persist. Among its many provisions, the 1987 legislation:

# established a comprehensive program for controlling toxic pollutant discharges, beyond that already provided in the Act, to respond to so-

called "toxic hot spots;"

• added a program requiring states to develop and implement programs to control nonpoint sources of pollution, or rainfall runoff from farm and urban areas, plus construction, forestry, and mining sites;

• authorized a total of $18 billion in aid for wastewater treatment assistance under a combination of the Act's traditional construction grants program through FY1990 and, as a transition to full state funding responsibility, a new program of grants to capitalize State Revolving Funds, from FY1989-1994;

• authorized or modified a number of programs to address water pollution problems in diverse geographic areas such as coastal estuaries, the Great Lakes, and the Chesapeake Bay; and

• revised many of the Act's regulatory, permit, and enforcement programs.

Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requires states to identify pollutant-impaired water segments and develop "total maximum daily loads" (TMDLs) that set the maximum amount of pollution that a water body can receive without violating water quality standards. If a state fails to do so, EPA is required to develop a priority list for the state and make its own TMDL determination. Most states have lacked the resources to do TMDL analyses, which involve complex assessment of point and nonpoint sources and mathematical modeling, and EPA has both been reluctant to override states and has also lacked resources to do the analyses. Thus, there has been little implementation of the provision that Congress enacted in 1972. In recent years, national and local environmental groups have filed more than 40 lawsuits in 38 states against EPA and states for failure to fulfill requirements of the Act. Of the suits tried or settled to date, 19 have resulted in court orders requiring expeditious development of TMDLs. EPA and state officials have been concerned about diverting resources from other high-priority water quality activities in order to meet the courts' orders. In October 1996, EPA created an advisory committee to solicit advice on the TMDL problem. Recommendations from the advisory committee, received in June 1998, formed the basis of program changes that EPA proposed in August 1999. The 1999 proposal set forth criteria for states, territories, and authorized Indian tribes to identify impaired waters and establish all TMDLs within 15 years. It would require more comprehensive assessments of waterways, detailed cleanup plans, and timetables for implementation.

The 1987 amendments added a new Section 319 to the Act, under which states were required to develop and implement programs to control nonpoint sources of pollution, or rainfall runoff from farm and urban areas, as well as construction, forestry, and mining sites. Previously, the Act had largely focused on controlling point sources, while helping states and localities to plan for management of diverse nonpoint sources. Yet, as industrial and municipal sources have abated pollution, uncontrolled nonpoint sources have become a relatively larger portion of remaining water quality problems — perhaps contributing as much as 50% of the nation's water pollution. Table 7 provides a summary of the major sections of the Clean Water Act.

Table 7. Major U.S. Code Sections of the Clean Water Act1 (codified generally as 33 U.S.C. 1251-1387)

33U.S.C. Section Title Clean Water Act

(as amended)

Subchapter I - Research and Related Programs

1251 Congressional declaration of goals and policy sec. 101

1252 Comprehensive programs for water pollution sec. 102 control

1253 Interstate cooperation and uniform laws sec. 103

1254 Research, investigations, training and sec. 104 information

1255 Grants for research and development sec. 105

1256 Grants for pollution control programs sec. 106

1257 Mine water pollution demonstrations sec. 107

1258 Pollution control in the Great Lakes sec. 108

1259 Training grants and contracts sec. 109

1260 Applications for training grants and contracts, sec. 110 allocations

1261 Scholarships sec. Ill

1262 Definitions and authorization sec. 112

1263 Alaska village demonstration project sec. 113

1265 In-place toxic pollutants sec. 115

1266 Hudson River reclamation demonstration sec. 116 project

1267 Chesapeake Bay sec. 117

1268 Great Lakes sec. 118

1269 Long Island Sound sec. 119

1270 Lake Champlain management conference sec. 120

Subchapter II - Grants for Construction of Treatment Works

1281 Congressional declaration of purpose sec. 201

1283 Plans, specifications, estimates, and payments sec. 203

1286 Reimbursement and advanced construction sec. 206

1288 Areawide waste treatment management sec. 208

1294 Wastewater recycling and reuse information andsec. 214

1295 Requirements for American materials sec. 215

1297 Guidelines for cost effective analysis sec. 217

1312 Water quality-related effluent limitations sec. 302

1313 Water quality standards and implementation sec. 303

1317 Toxic and pretreatment effluent standards sec. 307

33 U.S.C. Section Title Clean Water Act

(as amended)

1320 International pollution abatement sec. 310

1321 Oil and hazardous substance liability sec. 311

1322 Marine sanitation devices sec. 312

1323 Federal facility pollution control sec. 313

1324 Clean lakes sec. 314

1325 National study commission sec. 315

1326 Thermal discharges sec. 316

1327 Omitted (alternative financing) sec. 317

1328 Aquaculture sec. 318

1329 Nonpoint source management program sec. 319

1330 National estuary study sec. 320

Subchapter IV - Permits and Licenses

1341 Certification sec. 401

1342 National pollutant discharge elimination system sec. 402

1343 Ocean discharge criteria sec. 403

1344 Permits for dredge and fill materials sec. 404

1345 Disposal or use of sewage sludge sec. 405

Subchapter V - General Provisions

1361 Administration sec. 501

1362 Definitions sec. 502

1363 Water pollution control advisory board sec. 503

1364 Emergency powers sec. 504

1365 Citizen suits sec. 505

1366 Appearance sec. 506

1367 Employee protection sec. 507

1368 Federal procurement sec. 508

1369 Administrative procedure and judicial review sec. 509

1370 State authority sec. 510

33 U.S.C.

Section Title

Clean Water Act (as amended)


Authority under other laws and regulations

sec. 511


Labor standards

sec. 513


Public health agency coordination

sec. 514


Effluent standards and water quality information advisory committee

sec. 515


Reports to Congress

sec. 516


Authorization of appropriations

sec. 517


Indian tribes sec.

sec. 518

Subchapter VI -

State Water Pollution Control Revolving Funds


Grants to states for establishment of revolving funds

sec. 601


Capitalization grant agreements

sec. 602


Water pollution control revolving loan funds

sec. 603


Allotment of funds

sec. 604


Corrective actions

sec. 605


Audits, reports, fiscal controls, intended use plan

sec. 606


Authorization of appropriations

sec. 607

Footnote: This table shows only the major code sections. For more detail and to determine when a section was added, the reader should consult the official printed version of the U.S. Code.

Footnote: This table shows only the major code sections. For more detail and to determine when a section was added, the reader should consult the official printed version of the U.S. Code.

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