Clean Water Act

SC Scenic PondHistory
The Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 is recognized as the beginning of modern efforts to control pollution of the nation’s waterways. Officially called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, the CWA was amended in 1977, and after it expired in 1982, the Water Quality Act of 1987 was passed to continue the basic structure of the Clean Water Act. These acts and amendments are generally referred to as the Clean Water Act.

Major Elements
The purpose of the CWA is to protect the quality of the nation’s rivers and lakes from pollution
by giving the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate both point source and non-point source pollution. The major elements of the Clean Water Act, including later amendments, are as follows:
  • The discharge of any pollutant from a point source into a body of water is prohibited without a permit.
  • The establishment of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting program, which requires any organization that discharges pollutants into surface water to obtain a permit. An NPDES permit allows the discharge of specific pollutants, but with limits as well as monitoring and reporting requirements. NPDES permits are valid for five years and are issued by
  • EPA or by states with an EPA-approved program (such as DHEC).
  • The implementation of water quality standards with two types of controls: water quality based and technology based. Technology based regulations, which are the most common and are part of the NPDES permitting program, limit effluent based on the process used to treat the water, or the technology used to remove pollutants. Water quality based regulations limit the amount of discharge based on the quality of the body of water and how the body of water is used (recreation, drinking water supply, etc.).
  • Provisions for the prevention, reporting, and monitoring of toxic chemical spills and oil spills.
  • The limitation of development on wetlands to protect aquatic habitats (permitting authority given to the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Other Resources
Learn more about the Clean Water Act.