What Is the Clean Water Act?

Written by jennifer jean miller
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The Clean Water Act is federal law which ensures quality water. It also governs the safety of the water to keep it free from toxins and also to diminish pollution. The goal is to create safe waters for recreation as well as for the sustenance of wildlife that use the water for drinking and habitation purposes.

The Beginnings

Originally known as The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, it was enacted in 1948, and amended several times in subsequent years before it became federal law in 1972. States had to originally monitor and be the enforcers, and eventually the federal government began to take more of an involved role in the process.

Introduction in 1972

In 1971, the Clean Water Act was introduced on the senate floor. It was given careful consideration by the Senate Public Works Committee. It was approved by the Senate and in 1972 by the House. President Richard Nixon signed off on it on October 18, 1972.

What Is the Clean Water Act?
Rivers are navigable bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act

Navigable Waters

Navigable waters, such as rivers, lakes and canals within the United States and its territories, are considered "navigable" (can be used for travel and transportation) under the Clean Water Act. Industries such as manufacturing, government facilities such as military bases, and agricultural plants including animal feedlots, were now required permits for discharge of pollutants into these waters.


The Clean Water Act is administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA works to prevent or reduce pollution to the waters. One of the overall goals was to restore polluted waters. They are also involved in enforcement when there are clear violations of the act. The EPA participates in biological studies and restoration projects for particular waterways.

What Is the Clean Water Act?
The Clean Water Act works to reduce pollution in waters and protect wildlife and sealife.


There were amendments to the Clean Water Act in 1977, 1987 and 1990. In 1977, a major new program was added to protect against toxic substances. In 1987, the addition was to protect the discharge into storm water areas. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 addressed the topics of oil and hazardous substances spills.

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