Waterways Brought into Compliance by the Clean Water Act

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Hughes, Rebecca
Elrod, Dr. Aaron
Torreano, Dr. Scott
Issue Date
Scholarship Sewanee 2022 , Clean Water Act , Waterways , Enforcement , Implementation , Compliance
The Clean Water Act (CWA) was established in 1972 to regulate the discharge of pollutants into the waters of the United States (EPA). Past research on the CWA has tried to study certain aspects of the legislation, but few studies have attempted to determine if the CWA is making the waters of the US cleaner. There has been little research done to determine if the Clean Water Act has brought waterways out of impairment. This study investigates whether stronger enforcement and implementation of the CWA in states with impaired waters is associated with higher water quality between 1990 and 2010. States with impaired waters, the number of enforcement actions per permit, the percent of impared waters, each state’s political affiliation, the length or area of waterways in each state, the number of fines, and the number of non fines each state received was considered. Data was collected from Dr. Aaron Elrod and the EPA, and analyzed through generalized linear model fitting for thirty states. The percentage of impaired lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, and rivers and streams rose from 1990-2010. The best fitting variable for rivers and streams and lakes, reservoirs, and ponds is the percent of impaired waterbodies in 1990. While this variable can not predict the number of waterways brought into compliance, it is important because most significantly impaired waterways in 1990 were brought into compliance, or closer to compliance, by 2010. If waterways were over 50% impaired in 1990, it is likely that the waterways were brought closer into compliance with the CWA by 2010. The next best fitting variable for both categories is enforcement actions per permit. The findings reveal that the Clean Water Act has not brought more waterways into compliance, but it appears it has slowed down the degradation of our waters. The research is limited by the CWA data collection policy since every state reports their water quality uniformly. Future research should attempt to quantify how much the CWA has improved water quality and where our nation's waters might be without the CWA.