Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary

"The Clean Water Act has played a significant role in the restoration of waterways throughout Maryland and the nation. Even as we continue to make strides in reducing and preventing further pollution of our water, our mission is far from accomplished. It is the responsibility of every Marylander to respect our waterways and do their part to care for this natural resource. Keeping our water clean helps to protect and restore our waterways, including the Chesapeake Bay."

         --Robert M. Summers, Former Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment


40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act

Clean Water Act logoBy the middle of the 20th Century, America’s rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastal waters had become gravely threatened by pollution from unchecked industrial sources and outdated and inadequate wastewater treatment infrastructure. Many waterways across the country were so polluted they were unfit for any purpose. The American public then pressured Congress to act to protect our nation’s most irreplaceable resource. This action took the form of the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972, a landmark expansion of previous provisions to protect the nation’s water resources. The Amendments have led to tremendous progress in the restoration of America’s waters and have come to be known as the Clean Water Act.


The Clean Water Act

  • Defined water quality standards that serve as a metric for success in achieving its objective “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters”
  • Established a cooperative approach between state agencies and the federal government, providing more than $84 billion in federal funding to date for the full range of water management efforts required under the Act.
  • Through its primary permitting program, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, required industrial dischargers to use the best technology available to reduce toxic effluents and bring pollution to a minimum.
  • Established the total maximum daily load (TMDL) as a means to assess how much of a specific pollutant a waterway can sustain while still meeting water quality standards. TMDLs, often described as “pollution diets,” include reduction plans for the pollutants they address and are essential to ensuring the health of waterways where the technology-based approach has proven inadequate.
  • Provided construction grants for new municipal wastewater treatment facilities and required all treatment facilities to implement new treatment processes to further reduce pollution. Congress later replaced the grants program with the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund (CWSRF) for states to offer local municipalities low-interest loans to finance treatment facility constructions and upgrades. The loan payments reenter the fund, creating a revolving source of capital for such loans.
  • Strengthened the capability of Federal and State authorities to take enforcement action against permit violators. 
  • Created a framework for citizen enforcement actions, enabling everyone to advocate for clean water in their communities.
  • Increased protections on our nation’s wetlands, a vital but endangered part of our waterways’ natural defense mechanism.
  • Was amended to address “nonpoint source” pollution, primarily by providing funds for states to develop programs to institute management practices to reduce polluted stormwater runoff. The Act initially dealt mostly with pollution from specific, identifiable sources, known as “point sources.”


After the Clean Water Act’s passage 40 years ago, Marylanders who were already working hard to restore the Chesapeake Bay and our state’s other waterways quickly took advantage of the tools and resources offered by the Act. The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene coordinated Maryland’s water quality management efforts and wastewater treatment infrastructure development prior to the creation of the Department of the Environment in 1987. Since then, MDE has been dedicated to restoring Maryland’s environment and protecting public health. Pursuing the goal of clean water has been central to that mission.

  • To date, more than $64 million in Federal funding has been appropriated under Section 106 of the Clean Water Act to supplement Maryland’s state funding for water pollution control programs including permitting and enforcement, the development and monitoring of water quality standards and TMDLs for Maryland’s waterways and the management of these programs.
  • MDE oversees Maryland’s Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, a fund of over $2 billion for use in low-interest loans to finance water quality projects large and small across Maryland. The fund has received nearly $900 million in Federal grants in connection with programs the Clean Water Act set in motion.
  • In 2010, working with Maryland and all the Bay watershed states, the EPA established the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load, the largest TMDL since the CWA originated the TMDL assessment as a pollution control measure.
  • The Watershed Implementation Plans (WIPs) submitted by watershed states to the EPA spell out reduction plans for the pollutants the Bay TMDL targets and timetables for their completion. In collaboration with Maryland local governments and stakeholders, MDE developed Phase II of Maryland’s WIP, approved by the EPA this year.


Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant

Contractors work at the construction site of the Patapsco Wastewater Treatment Plant’s Enhanced Nutrient Removal (ENR) facilities in Baltimore, MD. The Bay Restoration Fund is providing funds for ENR upgrades at 67 of Maryland’s wastewater treatment facilities, including Patapsco, which will reduce the state’s nitrogen discharges by 7.5 million pounds per year. The Patapsco ENR upgrade’s share of this reduction is 2.6 million pounds per year, 35 percent of Maryland’s goal.  An expansion project also underway at the Patapsco facility is being financed with low-interest loans from the Revolving Loan Fund.

Former Secretary Summers gave a water monitoring demonstration to Parkway Elementary Students in Frederick, MD in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act on October 17, 2012 at 1:20pm.

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