clean water act blog California's drinking water flows through rivers and streams to travel from source to tap. Photo © Harold E. Malde

Clean Water Act Turns 40

Sewage, toxins and more in our nation’s waterways drove legislators to enact the Clean Water Act to protect our “most irreplaceable resource.” Hard to argue with that!

Raise a Glass—of Water!

On October 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) went into effect to help protect “our most irreplaceable resource.” Get the scoop:

Q: What drove passage of this powerful law?
A: The Clean Water Act is the principal law to protect the nation’s water and came out of a growing national concern about untreated sewage, industrial and toxic discharges, destruction of wetlands and contaminated runoff in our waterways. It was revised in 1987 and remains the chief framework for protecting and restoring our rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters—many of the sources of your drinking water.

Q: How does it limit pollutants?
A: The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) is one of the key regulatory tools of the CWA to protect and restore the nation’s waters. It requires facilities to get a permit if they intend to discharge wastewater and show that they are using the best available technology to reduce pollutants from their discharges. If they violate the terms of the permit, the EPA can bring suit.

Q: What role do states have?
A: Every two years, states must assess the condition of their surface waters and identify “impaired waters” that do not meet the water quality standards of the CWA. States are also required to develop and implement water restoration plans limiting pollutants in the water.

Q: How has the law evolved over time?
A: While the law once took a source-by-source and pollutant-by-pollutant approach, clean water is now looked at in a more holistic way. Today, the focus is more on an integrated, place-based watershed protection strategy—with an equal emphasis on protecting healthy waters and restoring impaired ones.

Q: How does this affect me?
A: The health of our nation’s waterways directly affects the quality of your drinking water and, in turn, your health! So when you raise a glass (of water!) to celebrate the Clean Water Act on its 40th anniversary, experience the results firsthand.

Source: Clean Water Act 101