Federal Water Pollution Control Act


Congress first addressed water pollution issues in the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. Portions of this law remain in effect, including the Refuse Act, while others have been superseded by various amendments, including the 1972 CWA.


Other notable predecessor legislation includes the following.


Public Health Service Act of 1912. Expanded the mission of the United States Public Health Service to study problems of sanitation, sewage and pollution.


Oil Pollution Act of 1924. Prohibited the intentional discharge or fuel oil into coastal waters. Repealed by 1972 CWA.


Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. Created a comprehensive set of water quality programs that also provided some financing for state and local governments. Enforcement was limited to interstate waters. The Public Health Service provided financial and technical assistance.


Water Quality Act of 1965. Required states to issue water quality standards for interstate waters, and authorized the newly-created Federal Water Pollution Control Administration to set standards where states failed to do so.



On July 25, 2007, Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat from Wisconsin, introduced legislation to reiterate the Congress' objective in passing the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972. The bill states that it was Congress' intention to protect all waters of the United States. Known as the Clean Water Restoration Act and co-sponsored by 19 Senators, the bill being reviewed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This is considered by many environmental groups to be a necessary step towards reversing recent Supreme Court of the United States rulings that have repealed protection for as much as 60 percent of the nation's waters.


Clean Water Act


Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to enactment of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972. As amended in 1977, this law became commonly known as the Clean Water Act. The Act established the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States. It gave EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry. The Clean Water Act also continued requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters. The Act made it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained under its provisions. It also funded the construction of sewage treatment plants under the construction grants program and recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by nonpoint source pollution.

Subsequent enactments modified some of the earlier Clean Water Act provisions. Revisions in 1981 streamlined the municipal construction grants process, improving the capabilities of treatment plants built under the program. Changes in 1987 phased out the construction grants program, replacing it with the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund, more commonly known as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This new funding strategy addressed water quality needs by building on EPA-State partnerships.

Over the years, many other laws have changed parts of the Clean Water Act. Title I of the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act of 1990, for example, put into place parts of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1978, signed by the U.S. and Canada, where the two nations agreed to reduce certain toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes. That law required EPA to establish water quality criteria for the Great Lakes addressing 29 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.

Source: U.S. EPA