Posts Tagged ‘Water Quality Standards’

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (commonly called the Clean Water Act) of 1972 is the primary law in the USA governing water pollution in surface waters. It is operated and enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is to maintain or restore the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waterways. The CWA has several sections, called Titles, that address how this goal is to be attained. Title I contains the declaration of goals and also establishes grants for research and pollution control programs. Title II establishes grants for construction of water treatment facilities. Title III explains standards of water quality and enforcement of those standards and is one of the major sections of the CWA. Title IV contains a list of licenses and permits that are available to entities that require permission or exemptions to release potential contaminants into waterways and is another of the major sections of the CWA. Title V explains how citizens can bring suit under the CWA and also protects whistle-blowers. Title VI establishes the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Funds which largely replace the grants from Title II and also expand the scope of the grants to include nonpoint source pollution control and estuary protection.

One of the major components of the CWA is the Water Quality Standards Program. This program is explained under Title III of the CWA and it establishes risk-based requirements for water bodies. Each water quality standard (WQS) is site specific and depends on the designated uses of that particular body of water, the potential sources of pollution for that body of water, and the species present in that body of water. If a water body does not meet its WQS a Total Daily Maximum Load for pollution is set and an implementation plan is developed setting out specific steps that will reduce pollution in that water body. Over 60,000 Total Daily Maximum Load plans have been proposed that will take effect in the next decade which is a good thing because an assessment in 2007 found that about 50% of the waterways that fall under the jurisdiction of the EPA are unsafe to fish and swim in. Also, just in the last few months, the EPA has expanded the definition of waterways to include a much broader range of surface waters that fall under the CWA. The combination of WQS requiring a great deal of time and resources to do well, the large number of polluted waterways in the US, and the likely increase in the number of waterways to be assessed all contribute to water quality becoming an ever more important issue in the near future.

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