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Water Quality Regulations

The following is a summary of the Clean Water Act and its amendments, as contained in Title 33, Chapter 26 of the United States Code . This information is provided as an aide to help understand the requirements of the federal statute, as they pertain to specific industrial or manufacturing operations. This information is not provided nor intended to act as a substitute for legal or other professional services. The full text version of the statute can be viewed by clicking HERE and following the directions.

The Clean Water Act (CWA), otherwise known as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, was established to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological quality of the waters of the United States. It addresses the release of pollutants to surface waters, such as lakes, rivers, and streams and wetlands. The Clean Water Act regulates several sources of water pollution, including point sources, and spills of oil or other hazardous substances.

This legislation specifically addresses the establishment of effluent limitations for point sources. Both direct and indirect discharges of pollutants are regulated. Direct discharges are those that go immediately to a water of the U.S., while indirect discharges are those streams that are sent to a public treatment facility before entering a water of the U.S. Pollutants regulated under the CWA are priority pollutants, include toxic, conventional, and non-conventional pollutants.

Key Provisions of the Clean Water Act

Title I: Research and Related Programs

Title I establishes program offices in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay regions and other locations to improve water quality in those areas.

Title II: Grants for the Construction of Treatment Works

Title II establishes the Federal Construction Grants Program to provide funds for states to construct publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) and establishes grants to address water quality management planning issues.

Title III: Standards and Enforcement

Title III requires the EPA to establish national technology-based standards, otherwise known as effluent limitations guidelines (40 CFR Parts 400-471), that place limits on the amounts of pollutants that are discharged in wastewater for specific industry categories. The EPA must make periodic revisions to existing effluent limitations guidelines as technology improves. Two separate sets of standards have been developed for the metal finishing industry (40 CFR Part 433) and the coil coating industry (40 CFR Part 465).

Under Title III, States have three main requirements. First, States must establish water quality based standards (WQS) to protect designated uses for receiving waters (e.g., water supply, fishing, boating). Second, States must develop criteria to be used in developing water quality based standards. Finally, States must identify waters impaired by toxic pollutants and to implement controls to reduce toxics.

Industries which are indirect dischargers i.e. discharge to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs) must comply with pretreatment standards for facility effluent (40 CFR Part 403). Facilities which are direct dischargers must monitor and report data on effluent concentrations in accordance with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit (defined in Title IV).

Title IV: Permits and Licenses

Title IV establishes the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program (40 CFR Parts 122 and 40 CFR 125) to regulate discharge of pollutants from point sources into waters of the United States. A point source is defined as “any discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, or tunnel … from which pollutants are or may be discharged.” An important provision within Title IV prevents re-issuance of a permit that is less stringent than a previous permit. Industries that are required to comply with NPDES permit regulation include metal finishing facilities.

Title V: General Provisions

Title V addresses administrative and judicial review procedures and protection for workers who report a violation of the Act and gives citizens the right to take civil action against anyone who violates the Act.

Title VI: State Water Pollution Control Revolving Funds

Title VI gives EPA the authority to make capitalization grants to states so they can establish water pollution control revolving funds for various purposes, including the construction of wastewater treatment plants.

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