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CU-Boulder CVEN 5534 - INTRODUCTION TO THE CLEAN WATER ACT

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1. http://www.epa.gov/watertrain/cwa/ INTRODUCTION TO THE CLEAN WATER ACT1 The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the cornerstone of surface water quality protection in the United States. (The Act does not deal directly with ground water nor with water quantity issues.) The statute employs a variety of regulatory and nonregulatory tools to sharply reduce direct pollutant discharges into waterways, finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and manage polluted runoff. These tools are employed to achieve the broader goal of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters so that they can support "the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water." For many years following the passage of CWA in 1972, EPA, states, and Indian tribes focused mainly on the chemical aspects of the "integrity" goal. During the last decade, however, more attention has been given to physical and biological integrity. Also, in the early decades of the Act's implementation, efforts focused on regulating discharges from traditional "point source" facilities, such as municipal sewage plants and industrial facilities, with little attention paid to runoff from streets, construction sites, farms, and other "wet-weather" sources. Starting in the late 1980s, efforts to address polluted runoff have increased significantly. For "nonpoint" runoff, voluntary programs, including cost-sharing with landowners are the key tool. For "wet weather point sources" like urban storm sewer systems and construction sites, a regulatory approach is being employed. Evolution of CWA programs over the last decade has also included something of a shift from a program-by-program, source-by-source, pollutant-by-pollutant approach to more holistic watershed-based strategies. Under the watershed approach equal emphasis is placed on protecting healthy waters and restoring impaired ones. A full array of issues are addressed, not just those subject to CWA regulatory authority. Involvement of stakeholder groups in the development and implementation of strategies for achieving and maintaining state water quality and other environmental goals is another hallmark of this approach. HISTORY OF THE CLEAN WATER ACT The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 was the first major U.S. law to address water pollution. Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to sweeping amendments in 1972. As amended in 1977, the law became commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA). The 1977 amendments: Established the basic structure for regulating pollutants discharges into the waters of the United States. Gave EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry. Maintained existing requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters. 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. Funded the construction of sewage treatment plants under the construction grants program.2 Recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by nonpoint source pollution. Subsequent amendments modified some of the earlier CWA 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. SUMMARY OF THE CLEAN WATER ACT The module goes through the major CWA programs in the following sequence: 1) water quality standards, 2) antidegradation policy, 3) waterbody monitoring and assessment, 4) reports on condition of the nation’s waters, 5) total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), 6) NPDES permit program for point sources, 7) Section 319 program for nonpoint sources, 8) Section 404 program regulating filling of wetlands and other waters; 9) Section 401 state water quality certification; 10) state revolving loan fund (SRF). Also, at any time, you can jump to the slides about a particular CWA program, by clicking on the "CWA Big Picture" link in the navigation tool bar -- at the top of the screen. For example, if you want to go to the unit on the Section 319 nonpoint source program, first click on "CWA Big Picture" in the tool bar, and then click on the brown box labeled "Section 319," in the lower left corner of the Big Picture slide. Throughout the module, underlined terms are hyperlinked to the glossary (see also the "glossary" link at the upper right corner of your screen). If this is your first visit to a Watershed Academy module, click the "how to navigate Watershed Academy modules" link for other general browsing instructions. This course may take several hours to complete. Students may vary the depth of the course by choosing to read only the left slides, the right side text, or both. Also, throughout the module, there are numerous links to other websites providing additional details on particular programs or topics. These are strictly optional, and not essential to understanding the basics of the CWA. Exploring these additional informational resources can easily double or triple the amount of time it takes to navigate this module. Brief Overview of Key CWA Elements First, water quality standards (WQS) consistent with the statutory goals of the CWA must be established. Then waterbodies are monitored to determine whether the WQS are met. If all WQS are met, then antidegradation policies and programs are employed to keep the water quality at acceptable levels. Ambient


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