Clean Water Act



The Federal Water Pollution Control Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1387, was adopted in 1948 and, after amendment in 1972 and 1977, became commonly known as the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). This act provides a comprehensive system for regulating pollutants in the waters of the United States with the objective of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters. The CWA operates by authorizing water quality standards for surface waters, requiring permits for point source discharges of pollutants into navigable waters, assisting with funding for construction of municipal sewage treatment plants, and planning for control of nonpoint source pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) is the primary agency tasked with implementing and enforcing the CWA. However, it also works in conjunction with state environmental agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Read the full overview

Note: Recently added resources are posted at the top of the applicable sections.

Major Statutes

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (a/k/a Clean Water Act), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1388

Congressional Declaration of Goals and Policy 33 U.S. Code. § 1251
Effluent Limitations 33 U.S. Code § 1311
Water Quality Standards and Implementation Plans 33 U.S. Code § 1313
Maximum Daily Load 33 U.S. Code § 1313 (d)
Information and Guidelines 33 U.S. Code § 1314
National Standards of Performance 33 U.S. Code § 1316
Toxic and Pretreatment Effluent Standards 33 U.S. Code § 1317
Section 319 Nonpoint Source Management Program 33 U.S. Code § 1329
Permits for Dredged or Fill Material 33 U.S. Code § 1344
Definitions 33 U.S. Code § 1362

Executive Orders

Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis


Mandatory Legal Approaches to Agricultural Nutrient Management
Animal Feeding Operations Regulations

Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act Regulations

Water Programs 40 C.F.R. pts. 104-149

Definition of Waters of the United States 40 CFR pt. 120
EPA Administered Permit Programs: The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System 40 CFR pt. 122
State Program Requirements 40 CFR pt. 123
Criteria and Standards for The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System 40 CFR pt. 125
NPDES Electronic Reporting 40 CFR pt. 127
Toxic Pollutant Effluent Standards 40 CFR pt. 129
Water Quality Standards 40 CFR pt. 131

Ocean Dumping 40 CFR pts. 220-238

Section 404(b)(1) Guidelines for Specification of Disposal Sites for Dredged or Fill Material 40 CFR pt. 230
Section 404(c) Procedures 40 CFR pt. 231
404 Program Definitions; Exempt Activities Not Requiring 404 Permits 40 CFR pt. 232
404 State Program Regulations 40 CFR pt. 233

Effluent Guidelines and Standards 40 CFR pts. 400-471

Conventional Pollutants 40 CFR pt. 401.16
Toxic Pollutants 40 CFR pt. 401.15
Concentrated Aquatic Animal Production Point Source Category 40 CFR pt. 451

State Sludge Management Program 40 CFR pt. 501

Corps of Engineers, Department of the Army, Department of Defense 33 CFR pts. 203-385

General Regulatory Policies 33 CFR pt. 320
Permits for Dams and Dikes in Navigable Waters of the United States 33 CFR pt. 321
Permits for Structures or Work in or Affecting Navigable Waters of the United States 33 CFR pt. 322
Permits for Discharges of Dredged or Fill Material into Waters of the United States 33 CFR pt. 323
Processing of Department of the Army Permits 33 CFR pt. 325
Nationwide Permit Program 33 CFR pt. 330

Case Law

Case Law Index for Clean Water Act

Administrative Law Decisions

EPA Office of Administrative Law Judges
Environmental Appeals Board
EPA Appeals Board Published Decisions: CWA Decisions
Center published USDA Judicial Officer’s Decisions

Center Research Publications

WOTUS Update (Ag & Food Law Blog)
Environmental Justice State Compilation (Rollins & Shehan, 2022)
Waters of the United States: Timeline of Definitions (Rollins, 2020)
Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality: Recent Litigation in the United States (Essman & Hivick, 2020)
Mandatory Legal Approaches to Agricultural Nutrient Management (Essman & Brown, 2019)
State Legal Approaches to Reducing Water Quality Impacts from the Use of Agricultural Nutrients on Farmland 
(Hall & Essman, 2019)
Issue Brief: Conduit Theory under the Clean Water Act (Barker & R. Rumley, 2019)
Water Quality Credit Trading: A Primer of Background Material (Jackson, 2010)
The Clean Water Act: Current Status and Potential Changes – PowerPoint Presentation (
R. Rumley, 2010)
The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act: A Primer of Background Material 
(Goeringer & Rumley, 2009)
Environmental Law: Federal Laws That Affect Agriculture – PowerPoint Presentation 
(Springsteen, 2009)
Clarifying NPDES Requirements for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations 
(Centner, 2007)
Governmental Oversight of Animal Feeding Operations (Centner, 2003)
How the Concept of Navigability May Determine the Rights of Landowners Along Streams 
(Looney, 2002)

Congressional Research Service Reports

Reports– published and made available by CRS beginning in 2017
Subjects- published by CRS and made available by NALC until 2018:

Animal Agriculture
Environmental Issues
Water Resources

Agricultural Law Bibliography

Introduction   |   Keyword Search   |   Browse Categories

Legal publications on Clean Water Act:

Environmental Issues
Water Rights: Agriculturally Related

Reference Resources

Economic Research Service (ERS)

Agricultural Resources and Environmental Indicators (Hellerstein et al., 2019)
Publications: Confined Animal Production and Manure Nutrients (Gollehon et al., 2001)
Publications: Economics of Water Quality Protection from Nonpoint Sources: Theory and Practice (Ribaudo et al., 1999)
Publications: Wetlands and Agriculture: Private Interests and Public Benefits (Heimlich et al., 1998)
Topic: Natural Resources & Environment
Publications: Benefits of Protecting Rural Water Quality: An Empirical Analysis (Crutchfield et al., 1995)
Current Water Quality Conditions and Government Programs to Protect Water Quality (ERS)
Water Quality Impacts of Agriculture (ERS)

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Summary of the Clean Water Act
Waters of the United States
Current Implementation of Waters of the United States
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES)
NPDES Permit Basics
Find NPDES Permits
NPDES Permit Writers’ Manual for CAFOs
Pesticide Permitting
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act: Permitting Discharges of Dredge or Fill Material
How Wetlands are Defined and Identified under CWA Section 404Clean Water Act Section 404 and Agriculture
Exemptions to Permit Requirements under CWA Section 404
Polluted Runoff: Nonpoint Source (NPS) Pollution
Basic Information About Nonpoint Source Pollution
Nonpoint Source: Agriculture
Water Quality Standards HandbookClean Water Act Section 303(d): Impaired Waters and Total Maximum Daily Loads
National Guidance Water Quality Standards for Wetlands
Clean Water Act (CWA) Compliance Monitoring
Clean Water Act Analytical Methods
Clean Water Act (CWA) and Federal Facilities


Livestock and Poultry Operation Inspections
Regulatory Definitions of Large CAFOs, Medium CAFO, and Small CAFOs
Clean Water Act Section 404(g) Factsheet
Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Final Rule
CAFO Clean Water Act Requirements: Will My Operation Be Regulated

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The Clean Water Act and the Army Corps of Engineers
CWA Guidance
Regulatory Program and Permits
Nationwide Permits
Obtain a Permit
Regulatory Guidance Letters

National Agricultural Library (NAL)

Water and Agriculture Information Center
Natural Resources and Environment
Water Management

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NCRS)

Natural Resource Concerns: Water
National Water Management Center
National Water Quality Initiative
Animal Feeding Operations
Conservation Compliance for Wetlands
Certified Wetlands Determinations

U.S. Geological Survey

Water Resources of the United States
National Water-Quality Assessment Program
Nutrients and Eutrophication
Pesticides and Water Quality
Agricultural Contaminants
USGS Water Data for the Nation

Congressional Resources

Reports on Clean Water Act (Government Accountability Office)
CAFOs: EPA Needs More Information and a Clearly Defined Strategy to Protect Air and Water Quality from Pollutants of Concern (GAO-08-944)

Other Federal Resources

Animal Feeding Operations (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
National Water Quality Program (NIFA and the Land Grant System)
Best Management Practices for the Clean Water Act (Bureau of Land Management)
Water Resource Program Strategy (Bureau of Land Management)
CWA Guidance (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)


U.S. Supreme Court Restricts Federal Jurisdiction over Wetlands (Tidgren, 2023)
U.S. Supreme Court Issues Opinion in WOTUS Case, Sackett v. EPA (Lashmet, 2023)
Federal Court Says County of Maui “Effectively Discharging” Pollutant in Violation of Clean Water Act (Jensen, 2021)
Agriculture and the Clean Water Act: WOTUS, Groundwater and More WOTUS, and Agriculture (Richardson & Lashmet, 2020)
U.S. Supreme Court Extends NPDES Permit Requirements to Indirect Discharges (Tidgren, 2020)
The Creature from the Potomac Basin: Environmental Law under the Trump Administration (Ferrell, Goeringer & Lashmet, 2017)
Surface and Groundwater Regulation (Hill & Aldredge, 2016)
One if by Land, Two if by Sea, Three if by Air: The Changing Face of Environmental Regulation of Production Agriculture (Ferrell & Lashmet, 2016)
Muddy Waters: Why Polluted Groundwater Infiltrating Navigable Waters Should Not Be Excluded From National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting (NI U., 2006)

Additional Resources

Clean Water Act Posts (Ag & Food Law Blog) (KS State Res. & Ext.)
The Environmental Law Center (VT Law)
Clean Water Act Jurisdictional Handbook (Environmental Law Institute, 2007)