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Environmental Protection

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act)

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) (33 U.S.C. 1251 - 1376; Chapter 758; P.L. 845, June 30, 1948; 62 Stat. 1155). As amended by:

Chapter 928, P.L. 580, July 17, 1952; 66 Stat. 755; Chapter 518, P.L. 660, July 9, 1956; 70 Stat. 498; P.L. 86-70, June 25, 1959; 73 Stat. 148; P.L. 86-624, July 12, 1960; 74 Stat. 417; P.L. 87-88, July 20, 1961; 75 Stat. 204; P.L. 89-753, November 3, 1966; 80 Stat. 1246; P.L. 91-224, April 3, 1970; 84 Stat. 91; P.L. 92-50, July 9, 1971; 85 Stat. 124; P.L. 92-138, October 14, 1971; 85 Stat. 379; P.L. 92-240, March 1, 1972; 86 Stat. 47; P.L. 92-500, October 18, 1972; 86 Stat. 816; P.L. 93-207, December 28, 1973; 87 Stat. 906; P.L. 93-243, January 2, 1974; 87 Stat. 1069; P.L. 93-593, January 2, 1975; 88 Stat. 1924; P.L. 94-238, March 23, 1976; 90 Stat. 250; P.L. 94-369, July 22, 1976; 90 Stat. 1011; P.L. 94-558, October 19, 1976; 90 Stat. 2639; P.L. 95-217, December 27, 1977; 91 Stat. 1566; P.L. 95-576, November 2, 1978; 92 Stat. 2467; P.L. 96-483, October 21, 1980; 94 Stat. 2360; P.L. 97-357, October 19, 1982; 96 Stat. 1712; P.L. 97-440, January 8, 1983; 96 Stat. 2289; P.L. 100-4, February 4, 1987; 101 Stat. 7

The original 1948 statute (Ch. 758; P.L. 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. During the development of such plans, due regard was to be given to improvements necessary to conserve waters for public water supplies, propagation of fish and aquatic life, recreational purposes, and agricultural and industrial uses. The original statute also authorized the Federal Works Administrator to assist states, municipalities, and interstate agencies in constructing treatment plants to prevent discharges of inadequately treated sewage and other wastes into interstate waters or tributaries.

Since 1948, the original statute has been amended extensively either to authorize additional water quality programs, standards and procedures to govern allowable discharges, funding for construction grants or general program funding. Amendments in other years provided for continued authority to conduct program activities or administrative changes to related activities.

This latter set of amendments included:

Major amendments were enacted in 1961, 1966, 1970, 1972, 1977, and 1987. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1961 (P.L. 87-88) stipulated that Federal agencies consider during the planning for any reservoir, storage to regulate streamflow for the purpose of water quality control (33 U.S.C. 1252). Authority was provided to the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to undertake research programs related to determining effects of pollutants and treatment methods and to assess water quality in the Great Lakes . Measures which could be taken by the Secretary, at the request of a State, to ward against pollution of interstate or navigable waters were also specified (33 U.S.C. 1254(f)).

The 1966 amendments (P.L. 89-753), entitled the Clean Water Restoration Act of 1966, authorized the Secretary of Interior, in cooperation with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Water Resources Council, to conduct a comprehensive study of the effects of pollution, including sedimentation, in the estuaries and estuarine zones of the U.S. on fish and wildlife, sport and commercial fishing, recreation, water supply and power, and other specified uses (33 U.S.C. 466).

The study report, due to the Congress three years following enactment, was to contain: 1) an analysis of the importance to estuaries to the economic and social well-being of the U.S. and of the effects of pollution upon the use and enjoyment of the estuaries; 2) a discussion of the major economic, social, and ecological trends occurring in the estuarine zones of the nation; 3) recommendations for a comprehensive national program for the preservation, study, use and development of estuaries, and the respective responsibilities which should be assumed by Federal, State, and local governments and by public and private interests.

Procedures for abating domestic pollution which damages the health or welfare of citizens in a foreign country were also outlined (33 U.S.C. 466). In addition, the amendments prohibited individuals, except as permitted by regulations issued by the Secretary of Interior, from discharging oil into the navigable waters of the U.S.

The Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 (December 2, 1970) created the Environmental Protection Agency, abolished the Federal Water Quality Administration in the Department of Interior, and transferred to EPA all functions formerly assigned to the Secretary of Interior and the Department of Interior which had been administered through the Federal Water Quality Administration.

The 1970 amendments (P.L. 91-224), cited as the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970, further amended the prohibitions on discharges of oil to allow such discharges only when consistent with regulations to be issued by the President and where permitted by Article IV of the 1954 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil (33 U.S.C. 1321). In issuing regulations, the President was authorized to determine quantities of oil which would be harmful to the public health or welfare of the U.S. , including, but not limited to, fish, shellfish, and wildlife, as well as public and private property, shorelines and beaches.

The President was also authorized to publish a National Contingency Plan to provide for efficient and coordinated action to minimize damage from oil discharges, including containment, dispersal, and removal. Related duties were to be assigned to various Federal agencies. The 1970 amendments also mandated that the President develop regulations to define substances other than oil as hazardous substances.

In addition, the 1970 amendments required that performance standards be developed for marine sanitation devices (33 U.S.C. 1322), authorized demonstration projects to control acid or other mine water pollution (33 U.S.C. 1257a) and to control water pollution within the watersheds of the Great Lakes (33 U.S.C. 1258). The amendments described the responsibility of Federal agencies to ensure that any Federal facilities are operated in compliance with applicable water quality standards (33 U.S.C. 1323).

Applicants for Federal permits or licenses for activities involving discharges into navigable waters are to provide a State certification that the proposed activity will not violate applicable water quality standards (33 U.S.C. 1341). Licenses and permits may not be granted if the State or interstate certification has been denied.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (P.L. 92-500) stipulated broad national objectives to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters (33 U.S.C. 1251). Provisions included a requirement that the Federal Power Commission not grant a license for a hydroelectric power project to regulate streamflow for the purpose of water quality unless certain conditions are satisfied (33 U.S.C. 1252).

In addition, the amendments significantly expanded provisions related to pollutant discharges. These included requirements that limitations be determined for point sources which are consistent with State water quality standards, procedures for State issuance of water quality standards, development of guidelines to identify and evaluate the extent of nonpoint source pollution, water quality inventory requirements, as well as development of toxic and pretreatment effluent standards (33 U.S.C. 1311 - 1313 and 33 U.S.C. 1315 - 1317).

Additional provisions further defined liability for discharges of oil and hazardous substances and the Federal role in clean-up operations (33 U.S.C. 1321) and established a Clean Lakes Program.

Section 402 of the 1972 amendments established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to authorize EPA issuance of discharge permits (33 U.S.C. 1342). Section 403 stipulated guidelines for EPA to issue permits for discharges into the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, and ocean waters further offshore (33 U.S.C. 1393).

Important provisions were contained in Section 404 of the amendments. This section authorized the Corps of Engineers to issue permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters at specified disposal sites (33 U.S.C. 1344). EPA was authorized to prohibit the use of a site as a disposal site based on a determination that discharges would have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas, wildlife, or recreational uses.

The 1977 amendments, the Clean Water Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-217), again extensively amended the Act. Of particular significance were the following provisions:

The Water Quality Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-4) provided the most recent series of amendments to the original statute. Provisions included:

Last Modified 3/31/2013