The Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act sets the basic structure and regulations for the discharge of pollutants into water sources in America and regulating the quality of the water. It protects the quality of water in America, protecting its physical, chemical, and biological integrity. It has improved and protected the health of water across America for decades.


Before the Clean Water Act, there was the Federal Water Pollution Control Act which began in 1948. This was the first major law to address water pollution in America and was administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This law created some set water quality programs and helped to provide some financing to local and state governments. This act later changed into the Clean Water Act we know today.


Although the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was a great start, it was not providing as much protection as needed for this nation’s water. In the early 1970s, two-thirds of the water in America was unfit and unsafe for swimming and fishing, considering untreated sewage was being dumped into a lot of the water. In 1972, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was changed drastically, and there was much more added to protect the waters. Because the law changed so drastically, the name was changed too. Today, it is known as the Clean Water Act.

Amendments Added to the Act in 1972

  • Established a system to regulate the discharge of contaminants in water
  • Gave the EPA the power to implement pollutant control programs
  • Set standards for all contaminants in surface waters
  • Made it illegal to discharge a pollutant from a point source into navigable waters without obtaining a permit if the law allows
  • Funded the building of sewage treatment plants
  • Recognized the importance of planning for tackling critical issues caused by non-point contamination sources


The Clean Water Act may be experiencing another change in the coming years. Many people in the country are outraged about the possible change because it may cause more pollution in the waters and fewer bodies of water to be protected under this act. Currently, the act works to protect all waterways by prohibiting unpermitted pollution. It recognizes that we need to protect upstream tributaries that flow into downstream waterways because pollution flows downstream. The proposed changes would eliminate protection of ephemeral tributaries, witch flow due to rain events, as well as intermittent streams, which do not flow constantly. This could threaten our water’s safety and greatly weaken the effects of the Clean Water Act. This new idea has been given the title the “dirty water rule” because it is going to make our water much dirtier and undo a lot of what the Clean Water Act has done.