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Water: Liquid Assets

Liquid Assets 2000: Federal Tools in Action


The Clean Water Act provides many tools to gain clean water. One tool--the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program--has become increasingly important over the last decade. Under the TMDL program, states, territories, and authorized tribes identify their polluted waters, submit a list of these waters to EPA, and work with citizens to set priorities for restoring them to health. State agencies then work with landowners, private companies, and other local stakeholders to develop cleanup plans for these polluted waters. These plans set "pollution budgets" that show how much pollution a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards. EPA is working to strengthen existing cleanup efforts by promoting more focused, collaborative efforts at the state, tribal, and local level to identify and clean up polluted waterbodies.

"It is critical that we, as a nation, rededicate ourselves to attaining the Clean Water Act goals that have inspired us for the past 25 years. The TMDL regulations we have proposed draw on the core authorities of the Clean Water Act and refine and strengthen the existing program for identifying and restoring polluted waters. They provide a map that will support us in our effort to fulfill the original promise of the Clean Water Act."

--Carol Browner, EPA Administrator

Clean Water Act Programs at Work

  • The Water Quality Standards Program sets overall goals, criteria, and limits for individual waterbodies and drives the development of water-quality-based discharge permits.

  • The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program requires states, territories and authorized tribes to identify their polluted waters and submit prioritized lists of these waters to EPA, and to develop TMDLs for these waters to help them achieve water quality standards.

  • Effluent Guidelines Program sets national limits on the amounts of pollutants in wastewater that can be discharged into U.S. waters and publicly-owned treatment works from industrial and other facilities.

  • The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program issues permits based on effluent guidelines for individual dischargers.

  • The Stormwater Program requires cities, industrial facilities, and other sources of pollution to institute proper management practices to minimize runoff from urban areas.

  • The Wetlands Protection Program [BROKEN] establishes a permit program jointly administered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPA to regulate discharges of dredged or fill materials into waters, including wetlands, of the United States.

  • The Nonpoint Source Management Program provides funding for broad state and tribal managment programs to address polluted runoff from agriculture, urban development and forestry, and helps to restore streams, estuaries, lakes and wetlands.

  • The National Estuary Program identifies, restores and protects nationally significant estuaries of the United States using partnerships. There are 28 estuaries in the program.

The Clean Water Action Plan

In 1998, President Clinton and Vice President Gore released the Clean Water Action Plan (http://www.epa.gov/history/topics/cwa/03.htm), a comprehensive strategy designed to help protect and restore the nation's water resources using a watershed framework. The plan's 111 key actions focus on achieving cleaner water by strengthening public health protection, targeting high-priority areas, and providing communities with new resources to control polluted runoff and enhance natural resource stewardship. More than one-third of the 111 actions, including new curbs on urban runoff, unified watershed assessments, and a beach action plan, are complete.

Under the Action Plan, many states, tribes, and local organizations are working on watershed restoration action strategies based on new assessments or existing watershed, ecosystem, conservation, or other integrated plans. Work has begun in many watersheds identified as top priorities. Already, more than 300 watershed restoration action strategies are guiding the design and implementation of projects that stem various sources of pollution. Although it will take several years to complete action strategies for all high-priority watersheds, states, territories, and tribes are currently using their watershed restoration action strategies to coordinate their programs and plan for future restoration activities. Together, federal, state, and local governments, tribes, the private sector, and communities are working toward healthy watersheds for our future.


Watershed Cleanup Plan Brings Community Together


Landowners in the Muddy Creek basin in Virginia were concerned when they learned the state Department of Environmental Quality had announced that a TMDL cleanup plan would be developed to address high fecal coliform bacteria levels in the creek. The Rockingham County Farm Bureau Association formed a citizen's advisory committee consisting of 12 basin landowners and four environmental advisors. The committee encouraged all basin landowners to participate in meetings sponsored by the Department of Environmental Quality. "Because the landowners have had a vital part of every decision, the community is 100 percent behind the effort," noted Carl Luebben, chair of the Farm Bureau's Environmental Committee. To assist the farmers with their pollutant reduction efforts, the local Farm Bureau recently secured an EPA grant to help implement better practices to manage manure and pesticides.

The Safe Drinking Water Act--Protecting Public Health

Tough Federal Standards--EPA has set national enforceable health standards for 90 contaminants. New standards are set for contaminants of greatest risk, providing cost-effective, strong public health protection.

Source Water Protection Programs--States are examining all sources of drinking water sources to identify contaminant threats and determine susceptibility to contamination, allowing water suppliers, local governments, and citizens to design source water protection measures.

Public Health Information--Water systems around the country must provide 250 million Americans with annual reports about where their water comes from, what is in it, and how to protect it. Consumers are also notified when there is a situation posing an immediate threat to public health.

The Drinking Water State Revolving Fund--This federal-state partnership provides low-cost financing to water systems to upgrade their facilities and for source water protection activities to ensure compliance with drinking water standards.

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