The Clean Water Act is majorly the main regulation that concerns water pollution in the United States of America. Its purpose is to help keep the nation’s water bodies in pristine condition, physically, chemically, and biologically.


The United States began its drive to protect its water bodies in 1899 when the Rivers and Harbors Act was passed.

But it was in 1948 that the Federal Water Pollution Control Act became the first major law in the USA to make water pollution a legal issue.

In the early 1970s, however, approximately two-thirds of the United States’ water was dangerous to swim in or fish from. Sewage was being dumped indiscreetly and without any treatment into water bodies.

The law was amended in 1972, amidst increasing consciousness of water pollution amongst the populace and the need to reduce its impact.

1972 amended that dubbed it the CWA:

• Set the primary structure to monitor the release of impurities into the United States’ water bodies.
• Allowed the EPA to create programs to reduce pollution like setting the limits for industrial wastewater.
• Kept the requirements that previously set the standard for water quality and contaminants in surface water bodies.
• Made it clear that releasing of any pollutant or impurity into navigable water bodies from a point source without a permit illegal.
• Used the construction grants program to support the building of sewage treatment plants.

Amendments in the 1980s

In 1981, some of the CWA’s previous legal clauses were changed by amendments. These amendments allowed for the process of granting municipal construction grants to be simplified, which helped with the sewage treatment plants that were constructed under this program.

In 1987, the grants for construction program was replaced with the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. This new program used collaborations between the states and the EPA to take care of water quality needs.

Other laws

As time went on, other laws that were passed affected parts of the CWA. For example, the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act of 1990, Title I, formed some part of the USA-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1978.

This law was an agreement between the two nations to reduce the pollution of the Great Lakes and had the EPA set the requirements for water quality of the Great Lakes and implement these requirements on a rigid schedule.

Recent years

In recent years, defining “waters of the United States,” the key name protected by the Clean Water Act, has faced some challenge and debate.

A majority of federal courts and government agencies, from the 70s to the 90s, were very broad in the scope of their interpretation of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction.

However, the Supreme Court ruled in the early 2000s that the broad interpretation was too much and that the scope needed a more focused interpretation.

In 2015, a rule on the more focused interpretation was released by the EPA. However, not all parties accepted it.

As at now, all government agencies continue to perform their duties the way they did before the release of the 2015 Rule until February 20, 2020, the date the rule will be applied. Hence the agencies will have more time to properly reassess the definition of “waters of the United States.”

The Clean Water Bill was a major victory in the fight against pollution. It is just one of many steps we need to take to keep our environment clean and healthy.