The Clean Water Act, or CWA, is the key piece of federal legislation that protects surface waters here in the United States.

The Safe Drinking Water Act is a piece of Federal Legislation, separate from the Clean Water Act, meant to protect the sources of drinking water for U.S. citizens.

The TNWQCA is a piece of state legislation meant to protect Tennessee surface waters.

The Clean Water Act, formerly known as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, is crucial to the protection of the health of surface waters in the United States. It does so through:

1). Establishing the structure for regulation of pollutant discharges in U.S. waters.

2). Giving the EPA authority to implement pollution control programs.

3). Maintaining existing requirements to set water quality standards for all surface water contaminants.

4). Makes it illegal for any entity to discharge any sort of pollutant from a point-source into navigable waters without a permit.

5). Funding the construction of sewage treatment plants.

6). Recognizing the need for plans to address non-point source pollution.

The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System is a permitting program created by the CWA meant to address point sources of pollution. Any individual or entity hoping to discharge pollutants into U.S. surface waters must first apply for a permit granting them the legal right to discharge a limited amount of said pollutant under specific conditions. The limits, conditions, regulation, and administration of NPDES permits are set and done by the EPA, but may be delegated to states that have applied for the authorization to do so.

The EPA administers the CWA by setting water quality criteria for specifying the allowed amount of each known chemicals pollutant in surface waters. These standards are enforced through the use of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES).

Section 404 of the CWA establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredge/fill materials in U.S. waters, including wetlands. It also regulates mining projects, infrastructure developments, and water resources projects (such as levees or dams). To discharge dredge or fill specifically, a permit must be obtained through the Army Corps of Engineers after proving that 1). No safer or more practical way of disposing of the material exists and 2). the receiving waters would not be severely degraded.


Safe Drinking Water Act

The Safe Drinking Water Act is a piece of federal legislation meant to protect the drinking water sources of the United States. It authorizes the EPA to set national, health-based standards for drinking water. These standards apply to every public water system and utility and are enacted through the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. These regulations set the enforceable limits for specific pollutants and describe the required methods to use in order to test for and treat said pollutants. They also require that all water operators be trained in these methods. 

While under the EPA's jurisdiction, states are allowed to apply for the authority to implement their own legislation regarding drinking water, as long as the standards are as strict as the EPA's. The state of Tennessee has its own version of the SDWA.

Tennessee Water Quality Control Act

The Tennessee Water Quality Control Act establishes the Water Pollution Control Program, and a permitting process meant to enforce it. Any activity that discharges into surface waters must have a permit issued by the Water Quality Control Board and comply with all monitoring, recording, reporting, and inspection requirements. Such permits include Aquatic Resource Alteration Permits, Storm Water General Permits, state operating permits, and mining permits. The act also allows for compensatory mitigation for unavoidable impacts to streams and wetlands. These unavoidable impacts are described in the TNWQCA.

Additional Information and Resources


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