Clean Water Act

The 1972 amendments to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (known as the Clean Water Act or CWA) provide the statutory basis for the NPDES permit program and the basic structure for regulating the discharge of pollutants from point sources to waters of the United States. Section 402 of the CWA specifically required EPA to develop and implement the NPDES program.

The CWA gives EPA the authority to set effluent limits on an industry-wide (technology-based) basis and on a water-quality basis that ensure protection of the receiving water. The CWA requires anyone who wants to discharge pollutants to first obtain an NPDES permit, or else that discharge will be considered illegal.

The CWA allowed EPA to authorize the NPDES Permit Program to state governments, enabling states to perform many of the permitting, administrative, and enforcement aspects of the NPDES Program. In states that have been authorized to implement CWA programs, EPA still retains oversight responsibilities.

The key sections of the CWA that directly relate to the NPDES Permit Program include:

Title I – Research and Related Programs

  • Section 101 – Declaration of Goals and Policy

Title II – Grants for the Construction of Treatment Works

Title III – Standards and Enforcement

  • Section 301 – Effluent Standards
  • Section 302 – Water Quality-Related Effluent Limitations
  • Section 303 – Water Quality Standards and Implementation Plans
  • Section 304 – Information and Guidelines [Effluent]
  • Section 305 – Water Quality Inventory
  • Section 307 – Toxic and Pretreatment Effluent Standards

Title IV – Permits and Licenses

  • Section 402 – National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
  • Section 405 – Disposal of Sewage Sludge

Title V – General Provisions

  • Section 510 – State Authority
  • Section 518 – Indian Tribes


Links to the Clean Water Act