Clean Water Act


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    Clean Water Act

    Logan RiverEnacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) serves as the regulatory framework for regulating pollutant discharges into “waters of the United States”.  The CWA defines limits and thresholds for wastewater and contaminants in surface waters. The CWA also deems it unlawful to discharge pollutants into waterways and waterbodies without the appropriate permit. This permitting system is referred to as the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). In Utah, this is enforced by the Utah Department of Water Quality and is called the Utah Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (UPDES). The CWA has been widely successful in limiting pollutant discharge into water bodies from discernible, “point” sources. The issue becomes more complex when there are many diffused “micro” pollutant sources. This is what is referred to as “nonpoint” source pollution.


     Photo Credit: NOAA

    npspollutionNonpoint source pollution (NPS) is defined as all pollutants that are picked up and carried to water bodies by runoff moving over a wide variety of landscapes. In contrast, point sources are pollutants that discharge through a pipe or other conduit from specific

    discharges (such as an industry or municipal treatment plant). The Clean Water Act treats these two categories of water pollution very differently.

    • Point sources have to be treated and are regulated through permits, with the possibility of hefty fines if these permits are not followed.  
    • Nonpoint sources are NOT regulated. This is because there are so many possible contributors- in fact all of us contribute to some extent to NPS pollution in our day-to-day activities. Reduction of NPS pollution, therefore, depends upon voluntary changes in our behaviors and land management. These are called "best management practices".  The government and other partners help private citizens reduce NPS pollution through incentives such as cost share programs, technical support, and education and outreach.

    Some land uses and activities that contribute to nonpoint source pollution are:

    • Stream Bank Erosion- may contribute sediment, nutrients, salts and organic material.
    • Urban Stormwater Runoff- may contain oil and grease, metals and other toxins, and nutrients and sediment. (Many cities now require permits for their separate stormwater sewer systems.)
    • Animal Operations- may contribute nutrients, pathogens, and organic material.
    • Irrigation Return Flows- may contain sediment, fertilizers, pesticides and salts.
    • Construction Runoff- may contribute sediments
    • Forest Road Construction for logging- may contribute excess sediment and organic debris.
    • Recreational Activities- may contribute trash, human and animal waste, and excess sediment.
    • Suburban Development-​ runoff may contribute fertilizers, pesticides and pathogens from pets and other animals.
    • Roads- contribute salts, some oil, grease and metals, as well as often causing erosion.  


    Clean Water Act (234 Pages)

    Guidance for controlling nonpoint source pollution