What is the Clean Water Act?

Gowing national public awareness of environmental issues, including water pollution, spearheaded the passage of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act by Congress in 1972. This act was amended in 1977 and is now known as the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Act initially regulated all "end of pipe" or "point" discharges to navigable waterbodies of the United States under a permit system. Amendments in 1987 authorized measures to address nonpoint pollution sources, like stormwater.

Our nation's waters have improved since the implmentation of the Clean Water Act as direct discharges to US waters were regulated. However, nonpoint sources of pollution like stormwater still present a problem. The 2002 Water Quality Inventory reported that 45 percent of the nation's rivers and streams are impaired or not clean enough to support their designated uses and 32 percent of bays and estuaries are impaired. Sediment, pathogens, and habitat alterations were identified as the leading causes of impairment in rivers and streams. Industrial sources and municipal discharges were cited as the reason for impairments in bays and estuaries. Regulating nonpoint source pollutants is a challenge, as they do not come from one source, but from many sources inlcuding runoff from roads, construction sites, agricultural land, atmospheric deposition, and failing septic systems.

In order to address the problem of nonpoint source pollution, specifically stormwater, the US Enviornmental Protection Agency (EPA) set forth the Phase I Stormwater Regulations in 1990 as part of the Clean Water Act. These regulations required all large municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s), serving over 100,000 people to implement a stormwater management program. Phase I also required permits for all construction projects greater than 5 acres and ten different types of industrial activities.

The next step in improving our nation's waters is the implmentation of EPA's Phase II Stormwater Regulations. These regulations cover all small MS4s (between 50,000 and 100,000 people) and construction projects one acre or greater under a permit system. Suffolk County is considered a small MS4 and is therefore permitted under the Clean Water Act to implement a stormwater management program by 2008.