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Oct. 18, 2007 - Clean Water Act Turns 35

October 18, 2007
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Today, Oct. 18, is the 35th anniversary of the day the Clean Water Act was signed into law. Since then, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, water quality has dramatically improved through the use of scientific standards, discharge permits, pretreatment requirements, state and local funding and watershed planning.

The EPA also announced the recipients of the 2007 National Clean Water Act Recognition Awards, which are aimed at recognizing municipalities and industries for outstanding and creative technological achievements in wastewater treatment and pollution abatement programs. Winners were chosen based on water quality compliance screenings and a satisfactory environmental quality record.

“To mark the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, EPA continues to recognize outstanding stewards across the nation,” said Benjamin H. Grumbles, EPA assistant administrator for water. “We celebrate innovative approaches and achievements which protect public health and keep our water clean.”

For further information about the awards, and this year’s winners, visit www.epa.gov/owm/mtb/intnet.htm.

Clean Water Act History

Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to enactment of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972. As amended in 1977, this law became commonly known as the Clean Water Act.

The Act established the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollutants into the waters of the United States. It gave the EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs, such as setting wastewater standards for industry. The Clean Water Act also continued requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters. It 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.

It also funded the construction of sewage treatment plants under the construction grants program and recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by nonpoint source pollution.

Subsequent enactments modified some of the earlier Clean Water Act 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.

The Act was also amended through the enactment of the Great Lakes Legacy Act of 2002.

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