The Clean Water Act: Analysis

By Isabelle Bienen, NWNL Research Intern

Isabelle Bienen is at Northwestern University studying Social and Environmental Policy and Legal Studies. As a NWNL summer intern, she wrote 5 blogs on the 1972 US Clean Water Act [CWA] and its role in NWNL’s 3 US watersheds. This is Isabelle’s fifth and final blog which analyzes the shortcomings, successes, and what is next for the CWA. Her earlier CWA blogs: CWA in Mississippi River Basin, CWA in Columbia & Raritan River Basins, CWA and Health Issueshttps://nwnl.wordpress.com/2018/10/30/the-clean-water-act-addresses-health-issues/, and Evolution of the Clean Water Act. All rivers shown below are currently Waters of the US [WOTUS] covered by the CWA. At the end of this blog is an addendum added by NWNL staff about recent proposed changes to the Clean Water Act.

Implementation of the Clean Water Act in NWNL Case Study Watersheds

The CWA in the Mississippi River Basin

Lake Martin in the Atchafalaya Basin, Mississippi River Basin, Louisiana

Despite the implementation of the Clean Water Act [CWA], the Mississippi River still experiences continued nutrient and sediment loading as well as the retention of dead zones. Effective management of nutrient and sediment runoff from agricultural sources requires targeted and specific approaches due to the increase in biofuel production in recent years. This basin runs through ten different states, over which the CWA has regulation with EPA oversight. This makes it difficult to implement targeted and specific approaches to nutrient, sediment, and dead zones problems since many of these states do not agree on how to approach these issues.1 Another inconsistency that inhibits adequate progress at this basin is the lack of data. There does not exist a single data-sharing mechanism for the river; nor does there exist water-quality standards for nutrient levels.1 Because of the limited amount of collected data, it is difficult to numerically determine the success of the CWA in the Mississippi River. However, the EPA and the ten states plan to renovate the existing Publicly Owned Treatment Works [POTWs] as well as add 1,688 POTWs in the near future. (No definitive end date has yet been released).2 This development, as well as the “contaminant reduction of sewage pollution from municipalities and the mitigation of point source inputs”2, highlight the major successes thus far of the Clean Water Act in the Mississippi River. Read more.

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