Water Quality Issues in the 110th Congress: Oversight and Implementation Page: 2 of 24
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Water Quality Issues in the 110th Congress:
Oversight and Implementation
Although much progress has been made in achieving the ambitious goals that
Congress established 30-plus years ago in the Clean Water Act (CWA) to restore and
maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters, long-
standing problems persist, and new problems have emerged. The types of water
quality problems are diverse, ranging from pollution runoff from farms and ranches,
city streets, and other diffuse or "nonpoint" sources, to metals, as well as organic and
inorganic toxic substances discharged from factories and sewage treatment plants.
There is little agreement among stakeholders about what solutions are needed
and whether new legislation is required to address the nation's remaining water
pollution problems. Several key water quality issues exist: evaluating actions to
implement existing provisions of the law, assessing whether additional steps are
necessary to achieve overall goals of the act that have not yet been attained, ensuring
that progress made to date is not lost through diminished attention to water quality
needs, and defining the appropriate federal role in guiding and paying for clean water
infrastructure and other activities. For some time, efforts to comprehensively amend
the CWA have stalled as interests have debated whether and exactly how to change
the law. Congress has instead focused legislative attention on enacting narrow bills
to extend or modify selected CWA programs, but not any comprehensive proposals.
For several years, the most prominent legislative water quality issue has
concerned financial assistance for municipal wastewater treatment projects, and it is
an early focus in the 110th Congress: the House Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee has approved three bills dealing with wastewater infrastructure financing
(H.R. 720, H.R. 700, and H.R. 569). At issue is how the federal government will
assist states and cities in meeting needs to rebuild, repair, and upgrade wastewater
treatment plants, especially in light of capital costs that are projected to be as much
as $390 billion.
Also likely to be of interest are programs that regulate activities in wetlands,
especially CWA Section 404, which has been criticized by landowners for intruding
on private land-use decisions and imposing excessive economic burdens.
Environmentalists view these programs as essential for maintaining the health of
wetland ecosystems, and they are concerned about court rulings that narrowed
regulatory protection of wetlands and about related administrative actions. Many
stakeholders desire clarification of the act's regulatory jurisdiction, but they differ on
what solutions are appropriate.
Other issues discussed in this report that also could receive congressional
attention, possibly through oversight or legislation, include implementation of current
programs to manage stormwater discharges and nonpoint sources of pollution, as
these are major contributors to water quality impairments across the country;
implementation of rules governing discharges of wastes from large animal feeding
operations; and implications of a number of court rulings concerning the scope of the
act's discharge permit requirements.
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Water Quality Issues in the 110th Congress: Oversight and Implementation, report, March 5, 2007; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc806127/m1/2/: accessed October 17, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.