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Water: Regulatory Information

Regulatory Information

Congress authorizes EPA and other federal agencies to write rules and regulations that explain the critical details necessary to implement environmental laws. Below are some of the key rules and regulations that the Office of Water employs to implement key statutes and programs.

Rules and Regulations Implemented under the Safe Drinking Water Act

Rules and Regulations Implemented under the Clean Water Act:

  • Analytical Methods (Sections 301(a), 304(h), and 501(a)) - EPA publishes laboratory analytical methods (test procedures) that are used by industries and municipalities to analyze the chemical, physical and biological components of wastewater and other environmental samples that are required by regulations under the CWA. Most of these methods are published as regulations in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at Title 40 Part 136. Some methods may also be found at 40 CFR Parts 401–503 (these methods are sometimes referred to as wastewater, Part 136, or 304(h) methods).
  • Cooling Water Intakes (Section 316(b)) - Section 306(b) of the Clean Water Act requires that the location, design, construction and capacity of cooling water intake structures reflect the best technology available for minimizing adverse environmental impact.
  • Effluent Limitations Guidelines - Existing regulations and regulations under development regarding national standards for industrial wastewater discharges to surface waters and publicly owned treatment works. (Current and proposed ELGs.)
    • Section 304(m)(1)(B) and (C) - Requires EPA to promulgate effluent guidelines for new categories of dischargers under certain circumstances
    • Sections 301(d), 304(b), 304(g)(1), 306(b)(1)(B) - Requires that EPA periodically review existing effluent guidelines, pretreatment standards, and standards of performance for new sources and to revise them "if appropriate" or, in the case of new source performance standards, "as technology and alternatives change"
  • National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Rules and Regulations (Section 402) - Section 402 of the Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by EPA, a state, or, where authorized, a tribal government on an Indian reservation. To help implement this provision of the Clean Water Act, EPA has proposed new or revised NPDES rules, which have included:
    • Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) Final Rule – The CAFO Rule requires concentrated animal feeding operations to safely manage manure. Manure contains the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus, which, when not managed properly on agricultural land, can pollute nearby streams, lakes, and other waters. The rule requires that an owner or operator of a CAFO that actually discharges to streams, lakes, and other waters must apply for a NPDES permit under the Clean Water Act and that nutrient management plans for manure be submitted as part of the permit application.
    • Pretreatment Streamlining Rule – The Pretreatment Streamlining Rule makes final changes to EPA’s General Pretreatment Regulations, which requires publicly owned treatment works that meet certain criteria to develop pretreatment programs to control industrial discharges into their sewage collection systems. These programs must be approved by either EPA or states acting as the Pretreatment “Approval Authority.” The Pretreatment Streamlining Rule, promulgated in 2005, streamlined and clarified various provisions of the General Pretreatment Regulations for existing and new sources of pollution codified at 40 CFR Part 403.
  • NPDES Permit Program (Section 402) - As authorized by Section 402 of the Clean Water Act, the NPDES permit program controls water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States. Point sources are discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches. Individual homes that are connected to a municipal system, use a septic system, or do not have a surface discharge do not need an NPDES permit; however, industrial, municipal, and other facilities that discharge to waters of the U.S. must obtain permits. There are two categories of NPDES permits: individual permits and general permits.
    • Individual permits are issued to individual dischargers and are specifically tailored to the specific facility to regulate its discharge of pollutants.  
    • General permits cover several entities that have the same type of discharge and set forth requirements applicable to the entire category of covered dischargers and include: the Vessels General Permit, Multi-Sector General Permit, and Construction General Permit.
  • Section 404 Regulations - Section 404 of the Clean Water Act establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have promulgated a number of regulations to implement the permitting program.
  • Sewage Sludge (Biosolids) Rule (Section 405) - The Standards for the Use or Disposal of Sewage Sludge rule (40 CFR Part 503) establishes requirements for the final use or disposal of sewage sludge (i.e., biosolids) when biosolids are: applied to land to condition the soil or fertilize crops or other vegetation grown in the soil; placed on a surface disposal site for final disposal; or fired in a biosolids incinerator. The Agency is required to conduct a review of the 503 standards at least every two years.
  • Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) and Impaired Waters Rules (Section 303(d)) - As authorized by Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act, states, territories, and authorized tribes are required to develop lists of impaired waters. These are waters that are too polluted or otherwise degraded to meet the water quality standards set by states, territories, or authorized tribes. The law requires that these jurisdictions establish priority rankings for waters on the lists and develop TMDLs for these waters. A Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL, is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still safely meet water quality standards.  Visit the TMDL regulations page to view regulations for the TMDL program, including specific regulations for Great Lakes TMDLs.
  • Water Quality Standards define the goals for a water body by designating its uses, setting criteria to measure attainment of those uses, and establishing policies to protect water quality from pollutants.

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