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Clean Water Act

Can this legislation ensure pristine water quality, or are three-eyed fish the future?

clean-water-act

Key Facts:

  • In 1972, Congress passed the Federal Water Control Pollution Act, better known as the Clean Water Act.
  • The legislation created the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, which requires that any party that discharges or affects the discharge of any pollutant get a permit for that activity.
  • In 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Reducing Regulatory Burdens Act of 2011, which could make it easier for industries to use pesticides in or near navigable waters.

A constant struggle for the recreational fishing community before the 1970s was keeping pollutants out of our waters. From industrial pollution to agricultural run-off, our streams, lakes and estuaries were battered from wanton waste. Then, in 1972, anglers finally got some help in this struggle when the Clean Water Act was signed into law.

Among other things, the legislation created the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, which requires that any party that discharges or affects the discharge of any pollutant get a permit for that activity. According to Trout Unlimited, The NPDES permit program requires that a mining company, or other entity, get a permit from state authorities to release or treat wastewater. The company is then responsible for any water quality violations, and the Environmental Protection Agency can force that entity to clean up the affected waters.

The Clean Water Act is not without controversy, however.  Even Federal scientists between EPA and the Fish and Wildlife Service disagree about some of the risks.  Developers, obviously, want permits to be easier and faster to get, and this seems too risky to others.  As recently as 2011, legislation was passed that would have made it easier for companies to use pesticides in or near navigable waters.

The major development of the past year is the attempt use of the CWA to thwart plans for the Pebble Mine in Alaska (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/frances-beinecke/epa-can-stop-the-pebble-m_b_2448806.html). Pollution on the Susquehanna and other major East Coast rivers are also key battlegrounds.

As these battles continue in Washington, the risk of pollution reaching our fisheries will be the primary concern.