Step 1: A Brief Overview of the Clean Water Act

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, more commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA), is the basic federal law for controlling water pollution in the United States. Although the original act dates back to 1948, the Clean Water Act, the source of modern water pollution control law, was largely shaped by 1972 amendments, overhauling the entire water pollution control system.

What the CWA Regulates
In order to protect and restore our nation’s waterways, the CWA prohibits the discharge of any pollutants into “waters of the United States” unless the polluter has a permit issued under the CWA. Even if the discharger has a permit, however, the CWA says the conditions of the permit should be strict enough to “protect the public health or welfare” and “enhance the quality of water.” Read the full text of the Clean Water Act. 

Who Administers the CWA
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with the overall administration of the CWA. In Georgia, as in many other states, permitting authority has been delegated to the State. Specifically, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), a division of the Department of Natural Resources, is the agency charged with issuing permits to industries and municipalities in Georgia.

While permitting authority under the Clean Water Act has been delegated from the federal government to the state, both federal and state law apply. Therefore, two sets of laws and two sets of regulations govern administration of the Act here in Georgia. Water quality permitting is governed by:

However, the interaction between these laws and regulations can be complex. The best source of information about requirements for Georgia discharges is the Georgia Rules and Regulations for Water Quality, enacted by the state DNR. Click here to learn how to find these laws.

Where the CWA Fails

With the passage of the Clean Water Act, the United States government finally appeared to be taking a proactive stance on water pollution. Enacted in order “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” the Clean Water Act appeared to be the solution to water pollution problems. Unfortunately, almost three decades after its passage, water pollution continues to be a significant problem in this country. While the government and industry may not have fulfilled their end of the bargain in cleaning up our waters, the Clean Water Act has given citizens the tools to achieve that goal through programs such as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program.

Go to Step Two.