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Water: Habitat Protection

Overview of EPA Authorities for Natural Resource Managers Developing Aquatic Invasive Species Rapid Response and Management Plans: Clean Water Act (CWA)

What is the Clean Water Act (CWA)?

CWA is the cornerstone of surface water quality protection in the United States. The statute employs regulatory and nonregulatory tools to achieve the broad goal of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters so that they can support the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water. CWA regulatory and nonregulatory tools are used to:

  • reduce direct pollutant discharges into waterways
  • finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities
  • manage polluted runoff

Currently, many of the tools used for surface water quality protection employ the watershed approach, which focuses equally on protecting healthy waters and restoring impaired ones. (For the complete text of the Clean Water Act, see www.epa.gov/region5/water/pdf/ecwa.pdf. [BROKEN] [ PDF, 537 KB, 230 pages, about PDF ] )

In particular, CWA Section 404 might apply to AIS rapid response or control activities. Section 404, which regulates the discharge of dredged or fill material, might apply to AIS eradication activities that involve moving dirt or placing materials into the waters of the United States.


Giant Salvinia, Salvinia molesta.
Photo by Scott Robinson, Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources

"Waters of the United States" means:
  • navigable-in-fact waters
  • waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide
  • interstate waters and wetlands
  • all other waters, such as inter-state lakes and streams, the use, destruction, or degradation of which could affect interstate commerce
  • impoundments of waters of the United States
  • tributaries of above waters
  • territorial seas
  • wetlands adjacent to above waters

See 40 CFR 230.3(s) ( www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_04/40cfr230_04.html Exit EPA Disclaimer ) for precise regulatory definition. Updates and background information regarding the scope of "waters of the United States " protected under the CWA can be found at www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands/guidance/SWANCC. Exit EPA Disclaimer



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