Discussion And Conclusions

In developing a methodology to evaluate the effectiveness of USEPA's Construction Grants Program, GAO (1986b) posed four questions to evaluate the water quality benefits obtained from upgrading municipal wastewater treatment facilities:

1. Did upgrading the POTW decrease the amount of pollutants discharged?

2. Did water quality improve downstream from the POTW?

3. Is there a relationship between changes in a plant's effluent and changes in stream water quality indicators?

4. Can other reasonable explanations of a stream's water quality be excluded?

Although many of the case studies in this report (Chapters 5 through 13) include a mix of multiple municipal and industrial wastewater discharges and might not be applicable to the methodology developed by GAO (1986b), the dramatic improvements that have been documented for effluent loading, water quality, environmental resources, and recreational uses clearly suggest that the answer to the questions raised by GAO (1986b) for all nine case studies is an overwhelming "yes."

In addition to the case study questions posed by GAO, the national policy questions raised by Congress and the public can be modified slightly to use for evaluations of the case study waterways: Has water quality improved as a result of public and private capital improvement expenditures for water pollution control? Has the waterbody achieved the "fishable and swimmable" goals set forth in the CWA? Has the CWA worked?

For all the case study waterways, tremendous progress has been made in improving water quality, restoring valuable biological resources, and creating thriving water-based recreational uses of the waterways that contribute to the local economies. Although significant progress has been achieved in eliminating noxious water pollution conditions, nutrient enrichment, and sediment contamination, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals continue to pose threats to human health and aquatic organisms. Serious ecological problems remain to be solved for many of the nation's waterways, including the case study sites. The evidence is overwhelming, however, that the national water pollution control policy decisions of the 1972 CWA have achieved significant successes in many waterways. With the new watershed-based strategies for managing pollutant loading from point and nonpoint sources detailed in USEPA's Clean Water Action Plan (USEPA, 1998), the nation's state-local-private partnerships will continue to work to attain the original "fishable and swimmable" goals of the 1972 CWA for all surface waters of the United States.

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