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Clean Water Act

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The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, amended to the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1977, was first passed by Congress in 1948. In 1972, the act underwent major reorganization and expansion, and was placed under the jurisdiction of the newly-formed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 comprise the bulk of the Clean Water Act in place in the U.S. today, giving the EPA the power to regulate and enforce pollution control in surface water. Specifically, the CWA focuses on keeping water clean for aquatic life, recreation, public water supplies, and industrial and agricultural uses (#IPL at New Mexico).

The Clean Water Act has many specific provisions and restrictions aimed at maintaining clean water for the aforementioned purposes. The EPA sets standards dictating the maximum prevalence of individual contaminants in surface water. The EPA also targets industry explicitly by setting wastewater standards for pollution control. Additionally, the CWA made it illegal for anyone to release pollutants into navigable waters without a permit from the EPA. The CWA has also provided funding for the construction of sewage treatment plants, and has recently begun to look at ways to effectively reduce non-point source pollution (#EPA CWA History).

Clean Water State Revolving Fund (The State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund)

A 1987 amendment to the Clean Water Act created the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund, more commonly known as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). This program offers funding for water quality projects, with projects largely focusing on pollution reduction, restoration, and waste management. Projects are largely funded by federal government grants, with individual states matching up to twenty percent of the federal grant money. State-determined low-level loans with flexible repayment options (loans range from zero percent to market rate and can have a repayment period of up to twenty years) are given to communities, and subsequent repayments are recycled back into the program to fund additional projects (#How the CWSRF Program Works).

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)

The NPDES, authorized under Section 402, is the primary enforcement tool of the Clean Water Act. This program not only requires that all potential dischargers obtain a permit, but requires those that are issued permits to meet effluent limits, as decided by the best available technology. Permit holders must employ the EPA-specified technology and are given specific time frames in which these technologies must be in place and updated. Individuals that knowingly place others in immediate danger by violating this law can face a fine of $250,000 and up to 15 years in prison. While the EPA has the power to take violators to court, it is primarily the individual states that do most of the monitoring of permit holders (


  • Section 404: Section 404 of the Clean Water Act requires a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers in order to release fill or dredge material into waterways. The controversy surrounds the section's inclusion of wetlands as a type of waterway that needs a permit for dredge or fill to be legally dumped in. Many environmentalists argue that any wetland dredging should not be considered potentially legal, while on the other hand, some developers and private landowners argue that the need for a permit to dredge or fill wetlands is an invasion of private property rights (


Copeland, Claudia. Congressional Research Service. CRS Report for Congress. Clean Water Act: A Summary of the Law. Updated 01/22/02. Accessed 06/25/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Clean Water State Revolving Fund. How the CWSRF Program Works. Updated 12/28/06. Accessed 06/25/07.

Environmental Protection Agency. Laws & Regulations. Clean Water Act. EPA CWA History. Updated 07/14/06. Accessed 06/25/07.

Institute of Public Law at the University of New Mexico School of Law. Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act). IPL at New Mexico. Accessed 06/22/07.

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