A Big Year for the Clean Water Act

The next generation learns about the Clean Water Act from River Network's Clean Water Act Owner's Manual.

The next generation learns about the Clean Water Act from River Network’s Clean Water Act Owner’s Manual (c) River Network

Way before I ever came to work at River Network, The Clean Water Act Owner’s Manual, written by my colleague Gayle Killam, was a well-worn favorite for me and continues to be my regular go-to guide for how the law works. So, as the landmark Clean Water Act turns 43, we thought a look at some of the changes over the past year that continue to affect the details of the law and how it’s implemented would be useful. From arcane and under the radar to big-news and much-debated, all of these alterations and new information continue to shape the contours of our favorite law and how it’s applied:

  • Clean Water Rule – this is the one that’s taken up most of the air space, and is intended to clarify the scope of the law long muddied by Supreme Court decisions. The rule is now under a temporary legal stay from the 6th Circuit while legal questions are resolved. Note that parties on several sides believe that the rule should be stronger (see e.g. NRDC (supporting rule) and Waterkeeper Alliance (Alliance and some individual Keepers opposing rule).
  • Toxic Standards for Power Plant Discharges – EPA finalized a rule in late September updating technology-based standards for toxics discharged from power plants (known as the Steam Electric Power Generation Effluent Guidelines). The rule is estimated to reduce 1.4 billion pounds of toxics and other pollutants from reaching waterways. Updates will take place as the plants renew their discharge permits.
  • Water Quality Standards – A rule finalized in September finalized long-awaited revisions to the water quality standards program including clarifications to the triennial review process and updates to antidegradation requirements.
  • Stormwater – as a result of a legal settlement with NRDC, EPA will be proposing changes to the Phase II stormwater program – look for a proposed rule in December!

New research and thinking continues to influence how best to tackle our clean water programs including: increasing understanding of how microbeads in personal care products can cause ecological harm, continued use of green infrastructure, and new ideas for water quality trading within existing legal frameworks.

To learn more about the Clean Water Act, the Owner’s Manual is available online, and even better – join us at River Rally for in-person sessions on clean water and many other topics.

Thanks to so many of you who have worked tirelessly to protect and improve the Clean Water Act at the local, state and national levels. Happy birthday CWA and to many more!

by Katherine Baer