Clean Water Act
Scope of the Clean Water Act
The Clean Water Act (CWA) was created to apply broadly to all “waters of the United States,” and the scope of the Act determines which waters are protected under the law. However, Supreme Court cases narrowly interpreted the application of the CWA (SWANCC in 2001 and Rapanos in 2006), thereby placing an estimated two million miles of streams at-risk of pollution and destruction. As the capillaries of our river systems, small streams and wetlands are critical to protecting clean water and reducing downstream flooding. Small streams were especially vulnerable following these Supreme Court cases and related Agency guidance, leading to confusion about the scope of the CWA, decreased enforcement for violations and some waters losing protections altogether.
To address this confusion, in 2015 the Obama Administration finalized the Clean Water Rule to clarify which waters are protected under the Act and restore protections for many of the two million stream miles that have been at-risk. This rule was broadly supported by over 80% of Americans polled. In addition to a long public comment period, EPA listened to communities all around the country, making adjustments to the rule to make it as clear as possible. The Clean Water Rule did not protect as many waters as were originally covered under the CWA, but is consistent with the science associated with the connectivity of waters and the legal principles established by the Supreme Court cases.
Under the Trump Administration, the EPA has proposed to repeal the Clean Water Rule and replace it with a Dirty Water Rule. The proposal advanced by the Trump Administration is based on an extremely narrow interpretation of CWA jurisdiction, which was rejected by the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court and the previous two administrations and excludes many waterbodies – including ephemeral streams and so called isolated wetlands – from protection.
The Dirty Water Rule makes no scientific, legal, public health, or fiscal sense. Wetlands and streams that don’t flow year-round are connected to larger water bodies that feed drinking water sources and provide habitat. Wiping out clear Clean Water Act protections from these vital parts of our natural water infrastructure will put larger streams, wetlands, and lakes at risk of pollution and destruction
- Clean Water For All Coalition – The Clean Water for All Coalition has a number of materials and fact sheets on the Clean Water Rule and the Dirty Water Rule
- River Network’s Nicole Silk’s op-ed in the Progressive
- Cincinnati NAACP op-ed: https://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/2018/12/20/opinion-clean-water-right-not-privilege/2370736002/
- US EPA – look for opportunity to comment here
More About the Clean Water Act
Water Quality Standards
Water quality standards are the building blocks for all kinds of efforts to protect and restore our rivers, lakes and wetlands.
- Water Quality Standards 101 Webinar by River Network – This is a 101-level training, suitable for river and watershed organizations, land trusts, tribal governments, and wildlife or lands groups interested in better understanding the power of one of the Clean Water Act’s core programs.
- Using Biocriteria in the Real World Webinar – This intermediate webinar will provide an understanding of bioassessement, biocritiera, and the possible power of those tools in protecting and restoring your watershed.
- The Clean Water Act through a Biological Lens Webinar – One of the Act’s goals is to protect “biological integrity” – what does that mean and how is it applied?
- Tracking TMDLs: A Field Guide for Evaluating Proposed Watershed Restoration Plans
Water Quality Certification
Section 401 is a powerful tool for protecting clean water (and sometimes flows!) from federally permitted activities.
- Water Quality Certification 101 Webinar – In this beginning level webinar, participants will learn the basics of how to use Section 401.
- Using Water Quality Criteria on nationwide permits – How to use Section 401 to protect wetlands.
- Water Quality Certification Case Studies Webinar – In this intermediate level webinar, case studies from around the country are presented to illustrate the use of Section 401.
Point Source Pollution and Permits
Point sources of pollution such as wastewater treatment plants, industrial facilities, concentrated animal feeding operations or stormwater systems, are regulated under the Clean Water Act’s NPDES program. Learn more about how this important program works.
- Point Source Pollution Permits 101 Webinar – this beginning webinar cover the basics of permitting, how to review permits and where to find further resources.
- Stormwater Discharge Permits Webinar – Municipal stormwater controls falls under the Clean Water Act’s permitting system and this webinar explains the municipal permitting system, what’s required and how to review them.
- Permit Comments – River Network has assisted groups to analyze Clean Water Act permits.
- Permitting an End to Pollution: How to Scrutinize and Strengthen Water Pollution Permits in Your State
Tribal Role in Implementing the Clean Water Act
- Tribal Role in Clean Water Act Implementation Webinar – This beginner’s session provides an introduction to the Clean Water Act and the role tribes play in implementing the Act.
The Clean Water Act Owner’s Manual
River Network developed a user-friendly guide to the foundational programs of the Clean Water Act. The Owner’s Manual is available for download.