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Clean Water Act Legal Research: Overview

A legal resource guide for information relating to the Clean Water Act (CWA) including primary and secondary source materials, quick links, and database resources.


In 1948 Congress passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA), Pub. L. No. 845, 62 Stat. 1155, the nation's first major legislative attempt at regulating water pollution.  In the wake of the burgeoning environmental movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's, the FWPCA saw significant amendments in 1972 by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, Pub. L. No. 92-500, 86 Stat. 816, and again in 1977 under its new name -- the Clean Water Act (CWA), Pub. L. No. 95-217, 91 Stat. 1566. The CWA was amended again in 1987 by the Water Quality Act, Pub. L. No. 100-4, 101 Stat. 7. The main function of the CWA is set forth in its purpose section: to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters." Consequently the basic prohibition of the statute found in § 301 of the Act prohibits "the "discharge of any pollutant" into waters of the United States by any person . . . mean[ing] that no one is allowed to "add" any "pollutants" (a broadly defined term) . . . from a "point source" . . . into "navigable waters" without a permit. Joel M. Gross & Lynn Dodge, Basic Practice Series Clean Water Act 1-2 (2005). Here the CWA's regulatory framework includes two different types of permits: 1) a § 402 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit issued by either the EPA or a state approved program; and 2) a § 404 Dredge and Fill permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers . 

Clean Water Act (CWA)

Clean Water Rule

Contact Information

This research guide is currently maintained by Gail Whittemore and Cynthia Pittson.