Wastewater Treatment: Overview and Background Page: 1 of 6
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Order Code 98-323
Updated November 17, 2008
CRS Report for Congress
Overview and Background
Specialist in Resources and Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The Clean Water Act prescribes performance levels to be attained by municipal
sewage treatment plants in order to prevent the discharge of harmful wastes into surface
waters. The act also provides financial assistance so that cities can construct treatment
facilities in compliance with the law. The availability of funding for this purpose
continues to be a major concern of cities and states. This report provides background
on municipal wastewater treatment issues, federal treatment requirements and funding,
and recent legislative activity. Meeting the nation's wastewater infrastructure needs
efficiently and effectively is likely to remain an issue of considerable interest.
Waste discharges from municipal sewage treatment plants into rivers and streams,
lakes, and estuaries and coastal waters are a significant source of water quality problems
throughout the country. States report that municipal discharges are the second leading
source of water quality impairment in all of the nation's waters. Pollutants associated
with municipal discharges include nutrients (which can stimulate growth of algae that
deplete dissolved oxygen, a process that harms aquatic ecosystems, since most fish and
other aquatic organisms "breathe" oxygen dissolved in the water column), bacteria and
other pathogens (which may impair drinking water supplies and recreation uses), and
metals and toxic chemicals from industrial and commercial activities and households.
The Clean Water Act (CWA) prescribes performance levels to be attained by
municipal sewage treatment plants in order to prevent the discharge of harmful quantities
of waste into surface waters, and to ensure that residual sewage sludge meets
environmental quality standards. It requires secondary treatment of sewage (equivalent
to removing 85% of raw wastes), or treatment more stringent than secondary where
needed to achieve water quality standards necessary for recreational and other uses of a
river, stream, or lake.
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Wastewater Treatment: Overview and Background, report, November 17, 2008; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc809020/m1/1/: accessed June 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.