Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on January 12, 2021
Approved by the Public Policy and Practice Committee on May 4, 2021
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 16, 2021
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) encourages Congress to reauthorize the Clean Water Act (CWA) to protect our nation’s waters and the beneficial use of those waters. The CWA should be revised, amended and reauthorized to:
- More aggressively address non-point and point sources of pollution from agriculture, urban stormwater runoff, sanitary sewer overflows and combined sewer overflows.
- Include advances in scientific and engineering knowledge about non-point source and point source pollution prevention and new treatment approaches;
- Include the regulation of flow and water quantity where such concerns constitute an impairment.
- Allow alternative compliance strategies and innovation to achieve healthy and robust ecosystems in-lieu of strict compliance with water quality standards based solely on water chemistry.
- Better define both qualitative and quantitative standards to minimize differing interpretations of acceptable water flows and wastewater discharges.
ASCE further recommends that federal agencies tasked with establishing regulations and policies to implement provisions of the CWA:
- Develop nationwide regulatory and best-practices guidance to ensure sustainable, comprehensive, and consistent approaches to the protection of the nation’s waters, mindful of the need to minimize regulatory processing times and costs.
- Recognize that protection of our nation’s navigable waters through Section 404 of the CWA requires a watershed approach that realizes the hydrologic connectivity of all sources.
- Provide meaningful information to the public about the water quality and ecosystem health of the waters in their communities.
ASCE further recommends that Congress provide funding to implement the Clean Water Act on a consistent basis.
The Clean Water Act (P.L. 92-500) has not been reauthorized since 1987. Initially identified as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972, the Act was significantly amended in 1977, 1981 and 1987. Funding authorizations for a number of provisions expired in 1990 and 1991; authorizations for wastewater treatment assistance expired in 1994. Reauthorization would provide a basis for annual appropriations for Clean Water Programs that previously expired, rather than the current ad hoc funding that competes with other national programs.
Additionally, new advances in watershed science should be explicitly included in the language of the Act. Three examples of scientific advances include: the interaction between subsurface and surface waters; the cumulative nature of discharge impacts on the receiving waters; and the recognition that flow quantity is an important aspect in watershed health.
Civil engineers are involved in water quality protection through the analysis, design, construction, and operation of water treatment facilities, water supply systems and stormwater systems and practices to protect and enhance the physical, biological, and chemical integrity of the nation’s waters. There is a need for controlling all sources of point source pollution (e.g. stormwater wet weather systems, combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, and stormwater discharges), and a continuing effort is needed to control non-point sources of pollution. Quantifying the effects of nutrients, and other pollutants on water quality and ecosystems, in addition to measures to control and mitigate those pollutants, requires ongoing research. That research also needs to address the longevity and sustainability of those measures. It is appropriate that the latest analytical tools, including data-driven interrelated watershed, and groundwater modeling be employed. Watershed approaches to water quality and ecosystem management offer the best way to integrate management and mitigation of a wide range of pollution sources related to water usage.
ASCE Policy Statement 420
First Approved in 1994