Water Pollution and Control Act History And Future

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Water Pollution and Control Act History And Future - Let's make sure the powers that be don't create a future such as in the image!

The Federal Water Pollution and Control Act (Clean Water Act) was originally made into law June 30, 1948 as statute (Ch. 758; P,L. 845), which authorized the U.S. Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, in cooperation with other Federal, state and local entities to prepare comprehensive programs with the intention of either reducing or entirely eliminating the pollution of interstate waters and tributaries and improving the sanitary condition of surface and underground waters. During the development of these plans, due process was to be given to improvements necessary to conserve waters for public water supplies, propagation of fish and aquatic life, recreational purposes, and agricultural and industrial uses. The original statute also authorized the Federal Works Administrator to assist states, municipalities, and interstate agencies in constructing treatment plants to prevent discharges of inadequately treated sewage and other wastes into interstate waters or tributaries.

Media Card Nicole Water Pollution copy

Water Pollution Courtesy: http://suryavenkat.blogspot.com/

The Federal Water Pollution and Control Act of 1948 was not the first issuance of clean water directives however, as earlier versions were created, such as the Rivers & Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 which is the oldest federal environmental law in the United States. It was originally enacted as the River and Harbor Act of 1886, but was later re-codified into the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899. The Act of 1899 made the discharge of refuse matter of any kind into the navigable waters, or tributaries thereof, of the United States without a permit a misdemeanor which was specifically referred to as the Refuse Act. The Rivers and Harbors Act also makes it a misdemeanor to excavate, fill, or alter the course, condition, or capacity of any port, harbor, channel, or other areas within the reach of the Act without a valid permit. The Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 also made it illegal to dam navigable streams without a license (or permit) from Congress and was included for the purposes of hydroelectric generation, at a time when the electric utility industry was expanding quite rapidly.

Water Pollution Sources

Water Pollution Sources

The Clean Water Act currently covers most activities covered by the RHA however the 1899 statute still retains independent vitality. The US Army Corps of Engineers and the Secretary of War were responsible for approving and authorizing projects. Going back, it was in 1948 when the original Federal Water Pollution and Control Act (FWPCA) was passed and with its amendments it expanded the Federal government’s authority in the control of water pollution. The 1948 bill was created as leaders recognized that dirty water was posing a significant threat to the public’s health and welfare. The Federal Water Pollution and Control Act was created to “enhance the quality and value of our water resources and to establish a national policy for the prevention, control and abatement of water pollution. In the bills and amendments it gave basic legal authority for Federal regulations over water quality, however it wasn’t until the 1972 amendments were passed that any major water pollution legislation were passed.

Between 1899 and 1948 two other key legislation were enacted:

  • Public Health Service Act of 1912. Expanded the mission of the United States Public Health Service to study problems of sanitation, sewage and pollution.
  • Oil Pollution Act of 1924. Prohibited the intentional discharge of fuel oil into tidal waters,[49] authorizing USACE to apprehend violators. This was repealed by the 1972 CWA, reducing the Corps’ role in pollution control to the discharge of dredged or fill material.

Water Pollution and Control Act

polluting image

Polluting from pipes

Prior to 1948, the States, local, and regional agencies were the primary caretakers for controlling water pollution. During the mid 1800’s the role of contaminated water in the transmission of disease was realized, leading to the creation of State Boards of Health to administer water pollution control programs. Most of the early water pollution control programs were focused on water-borne infectious diseases such as typhoid and cholera.

The Water Pollution and Control Act of 1948 in essence gave the States technical services to help increase their programs to control water pollution, focusing primarily on the states role in water quality management. At the time, any Federal action against polluters could only be taken with consent of the State from which the pollution was alleged to originate.


Cuyahoga-River-Fire-1952---Courtesy: Cleveland Museum of Natural History http://www.cmnh.org/site/AtTheMuseum/Health/Hazecam/HistoricHaze.aspx

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1956 further expanded the role of the Federal Government in controlling water pollution. It created a program of subsidies for municipal waste treatment plants construction, strengthened the powers of enforcement against polluters, increased funding for States to control water pollution, and provided new funding for research and education. Each of those programs were also included in the many amendments to the Act in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Since 1948, the original Federal Water Pollution and Control Act has been amended extensively to further authorize additional water quality programs, standards and procedures to govern allowable discharges, create funding for construction grants or general program funding. Amendments added in subsequent years also provided for continued authority to conduct program activities or administrative changes to related activities.

Federal Water Pollution and Control Act Amendments

  • Extension of appropriations authority through FY 1956 (Ch. 927; P.L. 579)
  • Continued authority to develop comprehensive programs for the control of water pollution, to provide grants to States and interstate agencies to assist in developing such programs and to construct treatment facilities, and to establish enforcement measures for pollution of interstate waters (Ch. 518; P.L. 660)
  • Extension of financial assistance to the State of Alaska (P.L. 86-70)
  • Water Quality Act of 1965. Required states to issue water quality standards for interstate waters, and authorized the newly created Federal Water Pollution Control Administration to set standards where states failed to do so.
  • Redefinition of eligible entities to include the 50 States and the District of Columbia (P.L. 86-624)
  • Extension of the FWPCA for three months (P.L. 92-50)
  • Extension of the FWPCA for one month (P.L. 92-138)
  • Extension of certain provisions through June 30, 1972, and other provisions through April 30, 1972 (P.L. 92-240)
  • Extension of the FWPCA through FY 1974 (P.L. 93-207)
  • Establishment of the formula to allocate treatment works construction grants (P.L. 93-243)
  • Extension of the FWPCA through FY 1975 (P.L. 93-593)
  • Increase in the authorization level for the National Study Commission (P.L. 94-238)
  • Establishment of a related municipal public works capital development and investment program (P.L. 94-369)
  • Authorization for a loan guarantee program for construction of treatment works (P.L. 94-558)
  • Additional program authorizations (P.L. 95-576)
  • Extension of certain provisions through 1982 as well as authority for demonstration programs to remove PCB’s from the Hudson River and to clean-up state-owned abandoned mines that can be used as hazardous waste disposal sites (P.L. 96-483)
  • Clarification of revenue distribution to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (P.L. 97-357)
  • Modification of effluent limitations relating to biochemical oxygen demand and pH (P.L. 97-440)
  • The Reorganization Plan No. 3 of 1970 (December 2, 1970) created the Environmental Protection Agency, abolished the Federal Water Quality Administration in the Department of Interior, and transferred to EPA all functions formerly assigned to the Secretary of Interior and the Department of Interior which had been administered through the Federal Water Quality Administration.
  • Section 402 of the 1972 amendments established the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) to authorize EPA issuance of discharge permits (33 U.S.C. 1342). Section 403 stipulated guidelines for EPA to issue permits for discharges into the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, and ocean waters further offshore (33 U.S.C. 1343).
  • Important provisions were contained in Section 404 of the amendments. This section authorized the Corps of Engineers to issue permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material into navigable waters at specified disposal sites (33 U.S.C. 1344). EPA was authorized to prohibit the use of a site as a disposal site based on a determination that discharges would have an unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas, wildlife, or recreational uses.

The 1977 amendments, the Clean Water Act of 1977 (P.L. 95-217), again extensively amended the Water Pollution and Control Act. Of particular significance were the following provisions:

  • Development of a “Best Management Practices” Program as part of the state area-wide planning program (33 U.S.C. 1288)
  • Authority for the Fish and Wildlife Service to provide technical assistance to states in developing “best management practices” as part of its programs ofr the control of water pollution (33 U.S.C. 1288(i)(1))
  • Authorization of $6 million for the Secretary of Interior to complete the National Wetlands Inventory by December 31, 1981 (33 U.S.C. 1288(i)(2))
  • Authority for the Corps of Engineers to issue general permits on a state, regional, or national basis for any category of activities which are similar in nature, will cause only minimal environmental effects when performed separately, and will have only minimal cumulative adverse impact on the environment (33 U.S.C. 1344(e))
  • Exemption of various activities from the dredge and fill prohibition including normal farming, silviculture, and ranching activities (33 U.S.C. 1344(f))
  • Procedures for State assumption of the regulatory program, including a requirement that the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service be involved in an advisory role regarding transfer of the program to the State (33 U.S.C. 1344 (g-m))
  • Requirement for development of agreements to minimize duplication and delays in permit issuance (33 U.S.C. 1344 (g))

The Water Quality Act of 1987 (P.L. 100-4) provided the most recent series of amendments to the original Water Pollution and Control Act statute. Provisions included:

  • Authority to continue the Chesapeake Bay Program and to establish a Chesapeake Bay Program Office (33 U.S.C. 1267). The original authorization for this program, the Chesapeake Bay Research Coordination Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-460), expired on September 30, 1984
  • Establishment of a Great Lakes National Program Office within EPA and a Great Lakes Research Office within NOAA (33 U.S.C. 1268). Related Federal agencies, including the Fish and Wildlife Service, are required to submit annual reports to EPA regarding agency activities affecting compliance with the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
  • Requirement that EPA, in conjunction with the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA, conduct research, as part of the Great Lakes Program, on the harmful effects of pollutants on the general health and welfare (33 U.S.C. 1254). Such research should emphasize the effect bioaccumulation of these pollutants in aquatic species has upon reducing the value of aquatic commercial and sport fisheries
  • Requirement that states develop strategies for toxins cleanup in waters where the application of “Best Available Technology” (BAT) discharge standards is not sufficient to meet State water quality standards and support public health (33 U.S.C. 1314)
  • Increase in the penalties for violations of Section 404 permits (33 U.S.C. 1344)
  • Provisions that additional State reporting requirements on water quality of lakes including methods to mitigate the harmful effects of high acidity (33 U.S.C. 1324). Authorization for EPA to undertake a water quality demonstration program for lakes with an authorization of $15 million to States, with funds to be distributed based on relative acidity problems
  • Establishments of $400 million program for States to develop and implement, on a watershed basis, nonpoint source management and control programs with EPA responsibility for grant administration, program approval, and periodic program evaluation (33 U.S.C. 1329)
  • Authorization for a State/Federal cooperative program to nominate estuaries of national significance and to develop and implement management plans to restore and maintain the biological and chemical integrity of estuarine waters (33 U.S.C. 1330). Authorization to NOAA to conduct water quality research and trends assessment in estuaries of national significance
  • Requirement that EPA study and monitor the water quality effects attributable to the impoundment of water by dams (33 U.S.C. 1375)

Resources for Water Pollution and Control Act:

Cuyahoga River Fire

Cuyahoga River Fire

While public health and safety were a concern in early clean water legislation which led to the 1948 Water Pollution and Control Act, much was left untouched until the famous Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire on January 6, 1969. Back in the day, rivers commonly caught fire, so they were hardly news to anyone and for the most part ignored by society. However that fateful cold January 6, 1969 became a national rally point and mobilized the nation to action. It just so happens that this fateful event inspired Earth Day a year after the fire, the creation of the EPA on December 6, 1970, less than a year later, and the Clean Water Act of 1972 a little over three years later.

Water Pollution in India

Water Pollution in India

The Federal Water Pollution and Control Act has seen many changes, most for the good. However, the powers that be from the right side of politics and certain corporations seem intent on terminating not only these protections which we have fought for over the years, but they also want to reduce if not eliminate the EPA altogether. Maybe they like those river fires, who knows, but to find the answer just follow the money.

Let us not allow them to rape our environment again in the name of profits, or in this case pure greed, let us keep the protections given to us by the Water Pollution and Control Act! Peace my friends!


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  1. we need to fix this.
  2. About 40% of Deaths worldwide are caused by Water Pollution.
    Water Pollution is Caused by organsic and inorganic industrial wastes and affluents discharged into rivers.
    Noise also causes anxiety stress reacation and fright.
  3. How to Avoid Air Pollution:

    Use natural Gases, like lpg autos.
    Do not Burst Crackers.
    Use less Amount of Fuel for Vehicles.
    Avoid using and use electric stoves.
    (bio gas)

  4. we have to do some thing….only commenting on this topic is not sollution to remove this problem.
  5. lasting we will know is the price of the clean water is much more expensive than diamond..
  6. try to give more picture
  7. we will try to keep our earth clean.
  8. if you want to live then save the mothre earth. yeee sab bakwaas hai
    • SATHEESH on March 11, 2014 at 11:46 am
    • Reply
    • Sasha on April 7, 2014 at 10:36 am
    • Reply
    I agree Supriya & bharti
  9. nooooooooooooo

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