The Clean Water Act (CWA) started as the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972. Amendments in 1977 became commonly known as the Clean Water Act. The Act is the primary federal law in the United States governing water pollution. The act established the symbolic goals of eliminating releases to water of high amounts of toxic substances, eliminating additional water pollution by 1985, and ensuring that surface waters would meet standards necessary for human sports and recreation by 1983.
After Congress passed the CWA, the Environmental Protection Agency issued guidelines that regulated water pollution from 56 industry categories. These regulations apply to between 35,000 and 45,000 facilities that discharge directly to the nation's waters, as well as another 12,000 facilities that discharge into publicly-owned treatment works. The regulations are responsible for preventing the discharge of almost 700 billion pounds of pollutants each year.
Other important aspects of the CWA include a variety of enforcement mechanisms, including administrative compliance and penalty orders, civil and criminal judicial remedies, contractor listing, and a citizen suit provision. EPA's enforcement settlement policies, which are somewhat complicated within the federal government, have promoted environmental auditing and the use of Supplemental Environmental Projects.
Since the Clean Water Act was passed, water pollution has drastically decreased. By the beginning of the 21st Century, waterfront development was a major goal in localities throughout The United States.
Section 494 of the Clean Water Act is one of the most important sections. Section 404 states that that all permits for the discharge of dredged or fill material into the navigable waters at specified disposal sites must be issued by the Secretary of the Army, acting through the Chief of Engineers . The Secretary will give a notice about the request for permit no later than 15 days after the permit is requested. Permits will only be granted if there is an acceptable reason for them and all permits expire after 5 years of being issued.
On July 25th, 2007, Senator Russell Feingold, Democrat from Wisconsin, introduced legislation to reiterate the Congress' objective in passing the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1972. The bill states that it was Congress' intention to protect all waters of the United States. Known as the Clean Water Restoration Act and co-sponsored by 19 Senators, the bill being reviewed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. This is considered by many environmentalist special interest groups to be a necessary step towards reversing recent Supreme Court rulings that have repealed protection for the nations waters up to 60 percent.