The Clean Water Act establishes regulations on discharging pollutants into the water of the United States. It also sets up standards for water quality. The first attempt at this idea was in 1948 called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act. It was then reorganized and expanded in 1972 into the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces the CWA. Through the CWA, the EPA has made it unlawful to discharge pollutants into navigable waters unless a permit is obtained. This permit controls the amount and type of discharge that industry can release. The EPA has also set wastewater standards and water quality standards for contaminants within surface waters.
The federal Clean Water Act requires states to designate beneficial uses for all waters and develop water quality standards to protect each use. Water quality standards include the following:
- Beneficial uses — identification of how people, aquatic communities and wildlife use our waters.
- Numeric standards — allowable concentrations of specific pollutants in a water body, established to protect the beneficial uses.
- Narrative standards — statements of unacceptable conditions in and on the water.
- Non-degradation — extra protection for high-quality or unique waters and existing uses.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is enforced by the EPA and is the main law that protects the quality of Americans’ drinking water. The EPA created standard amounts of contaminants that can be in our drinking water and still be safe to consume. The SDWA was passed in 1974 but amended in 1986 and 1996. The amendment in 1996 focused on the treatment aspect of providing safe drinking water. This law enhanced source water protection, operator training, funding for water system improvements, and public information as important aspects of providing safe drinking water.
Invasive Species Law – This law is meant to inhibit the transportation of an invasive species (plants and animals) from one ecosystem to the next. This is classified through a four tiered system; prohibited, regulated, unregulated nonnative species, or are unclassified and remain as unlisted nonnative species. Invasive species can threaten natural resources and inhabitants of that ecosystem. These intruders can be either terrestrial or aquatic. One common example of a terrestrial invasive species would be the emerald ash borer. One common example of an aquatic invasive species is Eurasian milfoil.
The Wetland Conservation Act (WCA) was passed in 1991 in an attempt to preserve and regulate wetlands. The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources administers the act statewide, and the Department of Natural Resources enforces it. The WCA recognizes a number of wetland benefits deemed important, including:
- Water quality, including filtering pollutants out of surface water and groundwater, using nutrients that would otherwise pollute public waters, trapping sediments, protecting shoreline, and recharging groundwater supplies;
- Floodwater and storm water retention, including reducing the potential for flooding in the watershed;
- Public recreation and education, including hunting and fishing areas, wildlife viewing areas, and nature areas;
- Commercial benefits, including wild rice and cranberry growing areas and aquaculture areas;
- Fish and wildlife benefits