The Clean Water Act – 40 Years Later

Forty years ago, in the midst of a national concern about untreated sewage, industrial and toxic discharges, destruction of wetlands, and contaminated runoff, the principal law to protect the nation’s waters was passed. Originally enacted in 1948 to control water pollution, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, or Clean Water Act (CWA), was totally revised in 1972. At that time, the CWA set a new national goal “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters”, with interim goals that all waters be fishable and swimmable where possible.

The CWA specifies that all discharges into the nation’s waters are unlawful unless authorized by a permit. It requires all dischargers to meet strict pollutant controls and to meet water quality targets. It also protects wetlands by requiring “dredge and fill” permits, and authorizes federal financial assistance to states and municipalities to help achieve these goals. The CWA has robust enforcement provisions and gives citizens a strong role to play in watershed protection.

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the nation’s law for protecting our most irreplaceable resource. Every person deserves clean water – it is vital for our health, communities, environment and economy. We have made great progress in reducing water pollution, but many challenges remain and we must work together to protect clean water for our families and future generations. 40 years later, the work is not done…everyone has an impact on the water and we are all responsible for making a difference. For more information, please visit the EPA’s Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary webpage. Water is worth it!

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