Clean Water Act of 1972 –
The Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1251, et seq., was passed into law in 1972 and is the primary federal law United States governing water pollution. Commonly abbreviated as the CWA, the act established the symbolic goals of eliminating releases to water of toxic amounts of toxic substances, eliminating additional water pollution by 1985, and ensuring that surface waters would meet standards necessary for human sports and recreation by 1983.
The system for granting and regulating discharge permits is called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), which regulates both point and non-point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States.
After Congress passed the CWA, the EPA promulgated effluent guidelines that regulate water pollution from 56 industry categories. These regulations apply to between 35,000 and 45,000 facilities that discharge directly to the nation’s waters, as well as another 12,000 facilities that discharge into publicly owned treatment works. These regulations are responsible for preventing the discharge of almost 700 billion pounds of pollutants each year.
While the technology-based standards have been largely successful, because they apply to specific sources and are enforceable, the health and water quality-based standards have been much less so. In 2002 there were still tens of thousands of rivers, lakes, and bays that were not safe enough for fishing and swimming. The most important remaining cause of these problems (typically, diffuse runoff from farms, streets, and yards) is known as non-point source pollution, which was not addressed in the original Clean Water Act.
To assist municipalities in creating wastewater treatment plants that were capable of meeting these standards, the CWA established a system to provide federal financial assistance, first in the form of construction grants, which were modified several times and later replaced by the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund in 1987. The Clean Water Act and its regulations also establish pretreatment requirements for industrial users contributing wastes to Publicly Owned Treatment Works.