clean water act

  • Clean Water Act

    The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the main federal regulatory framework we have for protecting the quality of water in the United States. The CWA delegates authority to the states to monitor and regulate pollution in our rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands. One of the greatest ironies in Missouri is that despite having great pride in our rivers and being host to some of the best recreational water activities in the country, we are woefully behind on implementing the law.  See below for an interactive timeline that explains some of the most significant developments for clean water protection in Missouri—use the arrows at the sides of the timeline to move forward through the events.   Keep reading below the timeline for more information about current issues and to learn about what MCE is doing further the interests of all Missourians who care about clean water.


    Unclassified Waters

    The first step in implementing the Clean Water Act is for states to classify their waters. After rivers, streams, lakes, and wetlands are classified, they are assigned Water Quality Standards appropriate for their classifications based on the uses they are designated. The goal of the Clean Water Act was go have all waters of the U.S. attain fishable/swimmable uses by 1983. Fishable/swimmable is shorthand for having the capacity to support aquatic life and being safe for full-body human contact with the water. Missouri has not assigned default fishable/swimmable uses to its waters and, as a result, there are not applied Water Quality Standards on many of our state's waters. 

    What are unclassified waters and why are they important?

    A substantial number of Missouri's stream miles have never been classified, meaning at least 65,000 miles of stream receive inadequate protection from water pollution under Missouri's water quality laws. Unclassified streams are generally smaller than Missouri's larger, classified water bodies, but their protection is equally important—the connections between smaller streams and wetlands to larger waters have real effects on rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and estuaries (see EPA's Connectivity Report (2015)). Missouri's smaller streams are critical parts of our large river systems. They serve as feeder streams for our big rivers and as nursuries for young fish. When they are not healthy, our bigger rivers are negatively impacted.

    Missouri's unclassified waters are not even receiving the minimal protections required by the Clean Water Act. These waters should be safe to swim in and be habitable for aquatic life. Pollutant discharge permits should not be authorized in unclassified waters. More than forty years after passage of the Clean Water Act, Missouri still fails to comply with the law.

    What is MCE doing ?

    The classification of a water body gives it needed protection from pollution. The Coalition urges Missouri's Department of Natural Resources to take the next steps in protecting our vital aquatic resources by classifying our waters. Simultaneously, MCE encourages the U.S. EPA to demand DNR classify its waters or else classify them for us—exactly as directed by the Clean Water Act.  Learn more about MCE's actions surrounding unclassified waters

    Polluted Waters

    Too polluted to drink, too polluted to fish or swim in, or even too polluted to support healthy aquaitc life, waters that have suffered from the byproducts and runoff of industry and agriculture are listed as "impaired". Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act requires each state to report on the status of the waters of the state. Every two years, each state is supposed to list all its streams and lakes that fail to meet water quality standards along with the pollutants causing the impairments. The list, known as the "303(d) list", is intended to spur states to develop and implement plans to address the impairments. 

    What is MCE doing ?

    We monitor the 303(d) list when it comes out every two years and work to extend Water Quality Standards to all waters of the United States. MCE watchdogs the implementation of Total Maximum Daily Loads and National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permitting in the state.Read more about impaired waters in Missouri

    Water Quality Standards

    After waters are determined to be impaired, Water Quality Standards (WQS) are applied to these classfied waters. Standards are the benchmark for ensuring water quality sufficient to meet the use of swimming, supporting aquatic life, sourcing drinking water, or other purposes assigned to a particular body of water.

    What is MCE doing ?

    MCE advocates for the classification of all waters of the state as, at a minimuim, both fishable and swimmable as required by the Clean Water Act and WQS that support those uses. MCE participates in DNR stakeholder workgroups, watchdogs the implemenation of WQS requirements, and collaborates with EPA, DNR, and others to support effective water quality management in Missouri. Read more about the characteristics of Missouri's Water Quality Standards

    Nutrient Reduction

    Nutrient pollution is a major contributor to contaminated drinking water, fish kills and the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Numeric nutrient criteria are a critical tool for protecting and restoring the designated uses of a waterbody with regard to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. These criteria enable effective monitoring of a water body for attaining its designated uses, facilitate formulation of NPDES discharge permits, and simplify development of total maximum daily loads (TMDL) for restoring waters currently not attaining their designated uses (i.e. impaired waters).

    What is MCE doing ?

    MCE works within MDNR stakeholder workgroups to push for the development of numeric nutrient criteria on lakes, resevoirs, rivers, and streams. EPA must approve states' nutrient criteria proposals. EPA disapproved Missouri's lake nutrient criteria in 2011. Since that time, Missouri has repeatedly produced revised criteria to address EPA's disapproval. Each time, agricultural interests stop the process. We will continue to advocate for revised criteria at the state level, but it may be up to EPA to enforce the law. 

    MCE is also part of a stakeholder group working on developing a water quality trading (WQT) program in the state of Missouri. Learn more about water quality trading here.

    Wetland and Stream Impacts of Development

    The Clean Water Act allows for project development that impacts our water resources when that project is authorized by the Army Corps of Engineers and follows specific requirements (outlined in Section 404 of the CWA). Permit applicants must demonstrate public benefit from the construction of the project; lack of alternative options for development site; the minimization of impacts to water resources; protection of endangered and threatened species; and requirements to offset these impacts through restoration, enhancement, and preservation of wetland and stream resources in the same watershed as the proposed project. 

    What is MCE doing?

    We closely monitor project permit applications that propose to impact Missouri's waters. We submit formal, public comments promoting real and measureable ecosystem benefits in mitigation activities and enforcement of the application requirements. MCE watchdogs the implementation process of 404 permit application, mitigation, and program monitoring to advocate for Missouri citizens' right to healthy water resources. Check out an interactive map of section 404 permitted projects in your watershed

    Clean Water Protection Rule (WOTUS)

    After decades of confusion regarding the interpretation of the phrase "Waters of the United States" (WOTUS), EPA and the Corps of Engineers created a rule clarifying very specifically what constituted jurisdictional waters. On May 27, 2015, EPA released the final rule set to go into effect on August 28.  Thirteen states, including Missouri, filed an injunction to stop the rule citing undue harm to regulated entities—most prominently, corporate agriculture—and later, on October 9,the Sixth Circuit Court of Appleals in Cincinnati issued a temporary stay of the rule delaying much-needed protections. While maintaining the agricultural exemptions in the former rule, the Clean Water Protection Rule will ensure that waters protected under the CWA are more precisely defined, more predictably determined, and easier for businesses and industry to understand. Learn more about the Rule from the EPA

    What is MCE doing?

    MCE continues to support the EPA and Corps of Engineers' development of a clarified definition of "Waters of the U.S." in the Clean Water Act. We rally our members to support the agencies' rulemaking and we continue to oppose legislative attacks on its implementation. 



  • Policy and Agriculture Story Map

  • Tell Gov. to Halt the Factory Farm Industry's Attack on MO's Clean Water Commission

    TAKE ACTION - Citizens should have a voice in protecting our waters. 

    Factory Farms are undermining our rights to clean water and air. The Clean Water Commission is a 7-member citizens' board which holds the authority in Missouri to implement the federal Clean Water Act and Missouri Clean Water Law and certify factory farm permits. A new state law (HB 1713) has removed the legal requirement for public representation on this Commission. While no longer required, the governor can choose to appoint members of the public to this important commission instead of special interests such as the concentrated corporate agriculture industry.
    Take action through the online form below to contact the Governor. Learn more! Watch our video on how the factory farm lobby undermined the integrity of our Clean Water Commission through the Missouri legislature.




  • The Gulf Dead Zone

  • Water Quality Standards

    The Clean Water Act (303(c)(2)(a)) states "water quality standards shall serve the purposes of the [Act] and consider the use and value for public water supplies, propagation of fish and wildlife, recreational, agricultural, industrial and other purposes, and … navigation". The CWA requires states to develop Water Quality Standards (WQS) for all classified waters. Water quality criteria—narrative and numeric—is developed and assigned to water bodies based on the use assigned at classification. 

    Initially proposed in September of 2013 and undergoing the public review process, EPA's final updates to the National Water Quality Standards regulation were published in the Federal Register on August 21, 2015. The updated regulation is intended to "provide a better-defined pathway for states and authorized tribes to improve water quality and protect high quality waters".  Look at a fact sheet explaining the Final Rule

    Under the CWA, water bodies are initially classified by the states and a protection level is determined based on the goal use for the water body— a few examples of goal uses are fishing, swimming, or sourcing drinking water. Next, a water quality assessment of water bodies determines which waters are impaired and sets priorities for improvement. Permit limits for point source dischargers are set through the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and are based on the water quality standards.  Water quality standards are also used to determine Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) in impaired systems.

    Components of Water Quality Standards regulation include requirements for:

    • Designated Uses – uses specified in WQS regulation whether or not they are being attainedconsidered to determine the necessary criteria needed to protect the use
    • Water Quality Criteria – states adopt numeric and narrative criteria, and chemical-specific criteria to protect designated uses including: biological criteria (a description of the desired aquatic community), nutrient criteria (nutrient limits to protect against over-enrichment and cultural eutrophication), and sediment criteria
    • Triennial Review – states must review WQS every three years
    • Antidegradation  –  identified high quality waters require enhanced protection to avoid degrading pristine resources
    • WQS Variances – a tool to help states or tribes meet compliance requriements and help ensure progress toward improving water quality is achieved by temporarily relaxing WQS
    • Use Attainability Analyses (UAA) – all water uses are assumed to be swimmable/fishable unless documentation through a UAA shows those uses are unattainable

    Learn more about the EPA's Water Quality Standards regulation

    In Missouri

    Missouri has not classified all its waters—an inaction that renders our state out of compliance with the federal Clean Water Act of 1972. Currently, designated uses have been assigned to the classified waters visible on a 1:100K map (1 inch on the map: 100,000 inches on the ground). Through its Water Protection Program, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) assigns designated uses and associated water quality standards to those classified waters. Criteria are set based on uses.  Examples of regulated pollutants include chlorine, chloride, fluoride, nitrate, dissolved oxygen (minimum), oil and grease, and E. coli. See information from MDNR on Missouri's Water Quality Criteria

    Unclassified waters are not legally protected from regulated levels of these and other pollutants that ensure a minimum level of water quality is preserved in our waters.  MCE participates in stakeholder Water Quality Standards workgroups to advance water protections in the state. Check out our information on Missouri's unprotected waters

    Nutrient pollution (primarily nitrogen and phosphorus) is particularly abundant in Missouri rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands due to industrial discharges, agricultural runoff from fertilizer application, and stormwater runoff from urban areas. Nutrient pollution is a major cause of the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Nutrient criteria has not been established for any classification of water bodies in Missouri. In 2011, EPA denied DNR's proposed lake nutrient criteria. DNR workgroups have developed draft criteria several times since EPA's disapproval, but political interests have stopped the process. DNR proposed its latest draft in October 2015. MCE participates in DNR's Nutrient Criteria Technical Subcommittee.







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