North America

    Clean Water Act

    The Clean Water Act (‘CWA’) regulates discharges of pollutants into US waters as well as regulates quality standards for surface waters.   

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (‘EPA’) has issued:  

    Last Updated: July 30, 2019


  • Requirements

    Under §404 of the CWA, it is unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit is obtained. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (‘EPA‘) National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (‘NPDES‘) permit program controls discharges (the CWA Summary) 

    Point sources, as defined at §502(14) of the CWA, are discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches. Individual homes that are connected to a municipal system, use a septic system, or do not have a surface discharge do not need an NPDES permit; however, industrial, municipal, and other facilities must obtain permits if their discharges go directly to surface waters (the CWA Summary).   

    To obtain permit, it must be demonstrated that (‘the Permit Guidance’): 

    • steps have been taken to avoid impact to wetlands, streams, and other aquatic resources 
    • potential impacts have been minimised;  
    • compensation will be provided for all remaining unavoidable impacts. 

    Furthermore, proposed activities are regulated through a permit review process. An individual permit is required for potentially significant impacts. Individual permits are reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which evaluates applications and monitors compliance with the permits. Some states have assumed this permitting authority and regulate these activities (‘the Permit Guidance’) 

    The CWA also prohibits the discharge of oil or hazardous substances to waters of the US or their adjoining shorelines in quantities that may be harmful to the public health or welfare or the environment. The EPA‘s Oil Pollution Prevention regulations (which you can access here) further require owners and operators of non-transportation-related oil facilities to make and implement plans to prevent oil discharges (‘the Compliance Guidance’).  

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