Editor’s Note: Welcome to part 1 in our Stormwater 101 Series about controlling runoff pollution. This article offers a sneak peek at our newest series — the rest is currently under construction but coming soon!
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, enacted in 1948, was the first national legislation that addressed water pollution. However, decades passed before an executive order created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, in 1970) and the Congress amended the earlier legislation to create what is known as the Clean Water Act (CWA, in 1972).
The CWA governs the conditions of each body of water in the United States and forbids their purposeful or negligent pollution. The CWA charges the EPA with creating and enforcing pollution control programs and regulations.
Some of the regulations that the EPA has enacted in support of the CWA are:
- Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) regulations for discharges of oil and oil products [40 CFR 112]
- Stormwater Pollution Prevention Regulations, including the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permitting Program governing discharges into waters [40 CFR 122]
- Water Quality Standards that require each state to designate appropriate uses for all of their bodies of water [40 CFR 131]
- Primary Drinking Water Regulations that set minimum criteria for safe drinking water [40 CFR 141 and 142]
Although there is still work to be done, the CWA effectively established a framework for states to identify their impaired waters and create plans to prevent further pollution. To help accomplish this goal, the EPA created a permitting program for facilities that discharge any type of pollutant into waters of the United States. The stormwater permitting program – known as the NPDES permitting program – strictly limits volume of pollutants and requires facilities to monitor discharges and have plans to prevent larger discharges.
Only waters of the United State are subject to EPA regulation. These include:
- All waters currently, formerly or potentially used for interstate or foreign commerce
- All waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide
- Interstate waters and wetlands
- Territorial seas
- Impoundments of water (enclosures such as reservoirs)
- Waters adjacent to included bodies such as wetlands, ponds, lakes, impoundments and oxbows (curved lakes formerly part of a river)
- Waters determined on a case-specific basis to have a significant nexus to an identified water
Waters of the United States do not include:
- Prairie potholes (glacially formed wetlands in the upper Midwest)
- Carolina and Delmarva Bays (digressional wetlands near the Atlantic coastal plain)
- Pocosins (wetlands covered with evergreen trees and shrubs along the Central Atlantic coastal plain)
- Western vernal pools (seasonal wetlands in parts of California)
- Texas coastal prairie wetlands (freshwater wetlands near the Texas Gulf Coast)
- Waters located within the 100-year floodplain of identified waters
- All waters within 4,000 feet of the high tide mark of identified waters
- Water treatment systems
- Prior converted cropland
- Ditches that do not evacuate to a tributary or other water
- Artificially-irrigated areas
- Artificially-constructed lakes and ponds
- Artificial reflecting pools
- Swimming pools
- Small ornamental waters
- Water-filled depressions and pits that are incidental to mining or construction
- Gullies, rills and other erosional features
- Stormwater control features that convey, treat or store stormwater
- Wastewater recycling structure
Uses of water vary, of course, and water quality treatments vary accordingly. Resources for drinking are carefully guarded, while water quality requirements are slightly relaxed for waters used for fishing or swimming. The EPA requires each state to designate the uses for each of its waterbodies. States must also create a management strategy to improve contaminated waters and prevent further pollution.
The EPA has authorized most states and territories of the U.S. to administer, monitor and enforce CWA programs, including industrial and municipal wastewater systems, NPDES permitting, pesticide permitting, pretreatment programs and animal feeding operations. Authorized states must ensure that their programs meet federal regulations, but they may also enact additional requirements that they deem necessary to maintain or improve the various waters in their state. The EPA itself enforces these programs in states not yet authorized.
Facilities with the potential to pollute stormwater or other waters of the United States need to develop plans and procedures to prevent discharges. This series will provide information about stormwater pollutants, permitting, planning, sampling, monitoring, inspections and reporting to help planners in all of these areas.
Check back soon for more parts of the Stormwater 101 series! In the meantime, feel free to contact our Service Team (1-855-493-HOGS) for answers to your runoff pollution and stormwater questions.