Water Quality Today - Has the Clean Water Act Been a Success?

58 Pages Posted: 7 Jun 2004

See all articles by William L. Andreen

William L. Andreen

University of Alabama - School of Law


The Clean Water Act is at a critical juncture today. New policies, new approaches may soon be adopted before we have had an adequate opportunity to assess how well the old techniques have worked. We need to determine as accurately as possible what has worked and what has failed as we approach the question of change. Although the Act stands in need of revision to fill various gaps in coverage, the aspects of the Act that are prime candidates for reform are not always the ones the critics target. The CWA, in fact, has been remarkably successful in doing what it was designed to do.

The application of technology-based effluent limitations through the permit system has proven to have been a wise approach for the initial control of point sources. Together with the funding of thousands of municipal wastewater treatment facilities, the technology-based approach has produced remarkable reductions in both municipal and industrial pollution. The CWA has proven successful in other ways as well. The rate at which wetlands are lost has declined some 90 percent since the early 1970s, and the amount of oil spilled annually into our waters has fallen to one-tenth of the level that prevailed during the 1970s. All of this was done without causing harm to the economy or to our international competitiveness. In fact, the cost of complying with the Act has been lower than the EPA anticipated, and eleven of our largest trading partners actually spend more per capita on controlling water pollution than we do. The economic benefits produced by the Act, moreover, appear greater than many had assumed. The Act and its success stand as a testament to the vision, insight, and courage of its drafters. Unfortunately, but not suprisingly given the limits of human and political capacity, neither the design nor its implementation have been perfect.

Keywords: Environmental Law, Environmental Policy, Water Pollution, Clean Water Act

Suggested Citation

Andreen, William L., Water Quality Today - Has the Clean Water Act Been a Success?. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=554803

William L. Andreen (Contact Author)

University of Alabama - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

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