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Water: Module 2

Basic Course: Key Concepts (Module 2.b)

Clean Water Act Overall Objective: Integrity of the Nation's Waters

Module 2. Designated Uses

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The overall objective of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters.


Key Point. Under the Clean Water Act, States and authorized Tribes have the primary responsibility for identifying the uses of their water bodies and for adopting these uses into their water quality standards.

Aquatic Life and Recreation
Section 101(a)(2) of the Clean Water Act states that, as an interim goal, water quality should provide for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish and recreation in and on the water, wherever attainable. This is sometimes referred to as the "fishable/swimmable where attainable" goal—but it should not connote that "fish" are only valuable for "fishing" or other human use.

Use and Value for Many Purposes

Section 303(c)(2)(a) requires States/Tribes developing standards for waters to adopt standards that "shall be such as to protect public health or welfare, enhance the quality of the water and serve the purposes of [the CWA] AND, in establishing such standards, consider their use and value for public water supplies, propagation of fish and wildlife, recreational, agricultural, industrial, and navigation and other purposes."


Concepts Applied. Read how designated uses were written into the Tribal water quality standards for Pueblo of Acoma in New Mexico (PDF) (55 pp, 2.4 MB, About PDF)

For informational purposes only–Not official statements of EPA policy.

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