50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act


DURATION 5 min read

In October of 1972 the first significant federal environmental law aimed at improving waterbodies within the United States was enacted. The Clean Water Act (CWA), created by the newly formed EPA, focused on positively improving the standards of our Nation’s waterways through regulatory compliance. The CWA was initiated as a result of numerous environmental hazardous events that occurred which brought negative attention on water quality issues (i.e. Cuyahoga River). Public outcry demanded that the federal government act on these events and require industries to be more environmentally conscience and aware of their impact to the environment. Prior to the CWA, raw sewage and untreated industrial wastewater was an allowable discharge into the waterway. CWA became a framework in 1972 with a mission to establish water quality regulations in the US.

What is Point Source Pollution?

The main objective of the CWA is to, “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”  This measure was first implementing by minimizing pollution discharges from “Point Sources” such as:

  • Industrial, mining, and manufacturing facilities
  • Wastewater Treatment Plants
  • Agricultural facilities like feedlots

Point Sources are not allowed to discharge to surface waters unless they have an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit; in Texas this is a TPDES (Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit  and TCEQ manages and implements this program.


What is Non-Point Source Pollution?

In the 1990s, amendments to the CWA lead to the creation of new regulations and implementation measures for storm water discharges from the following activities, identified as “Non-Point Sources”.    

  • Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems (MS4)
  • Industrial Sources
  • Construction Sites

If they meet certain criteria, these sources are required to also obtain authorization under an NPDES/TPDES permit. In Texas these permits are often known as the Phase I or Phase II MS4 permit, the Industrial Multi-Sector General Permit, and the Construction General Permit.   


CWA Goal Not Meet and May Never Be!

It’s important to note that the first goal listed in the CWA has never been achieved and it is unknown if or when it ever will:  

This is quite a lofty goal. When the CWA was written in 1972, this basically states that in 13 years no pollution would be discharged into the Nation’s waters. Fifty years after 1972 and it is safe to say that a goal of this magnitude would require an abundance of resources and that it may never be fully achieved.


Educating the Public Helps

Since the initiation of the CWA, positive change is transparent. Water pollution levels in the US have dramatically improved. Municipalities, businesses, and industries are required to comply with NPDES/TPDES regulations. Most importantly, the general public is engaged and involved in the legislative process with the intent to improve water quality standards. Education on water pollution, illicit discharges/illegal dumping, and simple actions to improve the quality of our most previous and viable resource – water – is ever present and the greatest tool to continue the ideology of the CWA.


You can visit our Water & Wastewater page to contact our experts or learn more about how our team works with communities to help meet their water resource needs.


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