Interested in a Compliance Management Solution? Watch our quick explainer video to see how we can help.

The Clean Water Act Turns 50

In October of 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed to establish the basic structure for regulating the discharge of pollutants in the water. Through the CWA the EPA has been able to implement pollution control programs such as setting standards for wastewater. Prior to the CWA, a similar act named the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was enacted in 1948 and revised in 1972, when it was heavily revise and became the CWA.

Revisions of the CWA in 1981 began the municipal construction grants process, improving the capabilities of treatment plants built under the CWA. Under the CWA, protected waters included streams, lakes and wetlands.

In 1987, more revisions phased out the prior grants process.  The State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund, also known as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, replaced the grants. This allowed state and EPA partnerships to be built and addressed water quality needs by state.

In 1990, the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act Title I was signed by both the U.S. and Canada. In signing this, it was agreed that certain toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes would be reduced. This also helped the EPA to implement all criteria on a specific schedule.


The CWA has been crucial in keeping pollutant levels safe in water and restoring the biological integrity of water. A number of naturally occurring minerals including arsenic and radon can be contaminants of water. Fertilizers and pesticides as well as wastewater overflow can also cause water to become contaminated. If contaminated, a number of health issues including gastrointestinal illness and neurological disorders can be caused by consuming contaminated water.

Since the passing of the CWA in 1972, the goals for water quality have not yet been met. The original water quality goals were to “make all bodies of water fishable and swimmable by 1973, to have zero water pollution discharge by 1985, and to prohibit discharge of toxic amounts of toxic pollutants” (content (

Although these goals have not been met, there has been a significant decrease in the amount of pollution in the waters, however, it has been argued that the EPA needs to update the Clean Water Act once again in order address the water problems that the United States has today.

To learn more about the history of the CWA visit: Summary of the Clean Water Act | US EPA

Mostardi Platt
888 Industrial Drive
Elmhurst, IL 60126