RL33800 - Water Quality Issues in the 110th Congress: Oversight and Implementation
25-Nov-2008; Claudia Copeland; 29 p.
Update: Previous Releases:
January 23, 2008
October 2, 2007
May 8, 2007
May 1, 2007
March 15, 2007
Abstract: Although much progress has been made in achieving the ambitious goals that Congress established 35 years ago in the Clean Water Act (CWA) to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters, longstanding 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 in focus in the 110th Congress: the House has passed 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 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 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.