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


CAFO State Regulation Database
Animal Feeding Operations Regulations

Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act Regulations

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

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations 40 CFR pt 122.23
Water Quality Standards 40 CFR pt 131
Criteria 40 CFR § 131.11

40 C.F.R. pts. 220-238
40 C.F.R. 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 45

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) 

NPDES Regulations
NPDES Regulations 40 C.F.R. pts. 122-125; 127; 133; 403; 501; 503

40 C.F.R. § 122.1- 122.7; 122.21-122.38; 122.41-122.50; 122.61-122.64
40 C.F.R. § 123.1-123.3; 123.21-123.36; 123.41-123.46; 123.61-123.64
40 C.F.R. § 124.1-124.21; 124.31-124.33; 124.41 & 124.42; 124.51-124.124.66; 124.200-124.214
40 C.F.R. § 125.1-125.3; 125.10 & 125.11; 125.30-125.32; 125.56-125.68; 125.70-125.73; 125.80-125.89; 125.90-125.99; 125.120-125.124; 125.130-125.139
40 C.F.R. § 127.1-127.2; 127.11-127.16; 127.21-127.27
40 C.F.R. § 133.100-133.105
40 C.F.R. § 403.1-403.20
40 C.F.R. § 501.1-501.3; 501.11-501.25; 501.31-501.34
40 C.F.R. § 503.1-503.9; 503.10-503.18; 503.20-503.28; 503.30-503.33; 503.40-503.48

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Clean Water Act Regulations, 33 C.F.R. pts. 320; 323-338

Definition of the Waters of the United States 33 CFR § 328.3

Rural Clean Water Program Regulations, 7 C.F.R. §§ 634.1-634.50

Federal Register Rules Open for Comment

Navigation Tutorial for How to Create a Comment

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

Environmental Justice State Compilation (Rollins & Shehan, 2022)
Waters of the United States: Timeline of Definitions (Rollins, 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)

Point Source Pollution Clean Water Act, Section 402: NPDES Act, 33 U.S.C. § 1342)
Permits to Dredge and Fill Section 404 Overview of Clean Water Act Section 404
Clean Water Act Section 401: State Certification of Water Quality
Clean Water Act Section 404 and Agriculture
Agriculture Exemptions: Exemptions to Permit Requirements under CWA Section 404
Nonpoint Source: Agriculture
Animal Feeding Operations (AFO)
Find NPDES Permits
NPDES Permit Writers’ Manual for CAFOs
Discharges from Pesticides Permitting
Water Topics
Clean Water Act (National Agriculture Compliance Assistance Center)
WATERS (Watershed Assessment, Tracking and Environmental Results System)
Water Quality Standards Handbook
Wetlands Protection and Restoration
Clean Water Act Section 303(d): Impaired Waters and Total Maximum Daily Loads
Definition of “Waters of the United States” under the Clean Water Act
National Agriculture Compliance Assistance Center
EPA’s National Strategy for Agriculture
Summary of the Clean Water Act
National Guidance Water Quality Standards for Wetlands
Nonpoint Source Pollution
National Lakes Assessment
EPA Watershed Academy Web  Clean Water Act Module
Polluted Runoff (Nonpoint Source Pollution)
Clean Water Act (CWA) Action Plan
Clean Water Act (CWA) Compliance Monitoring
Clean Water Act Section 404 and Agriculture
How Wetlands are Defined and Identified under CWA Section 404
Section 404 of the Clean Water Act: Permitting Discharges of Dredge or Fill Material
Clean Water Act Analytical Methods
Clean Water Act (CWA) and Federal Facilities
Key Federal Water Laws and Regulations
CWA Section 319: Guidance for States and Territories
Grants Reporting and Tracking Systems(GRTS): View data
Funding Resources for Watershed Protection and Restoration
Types of Nonpoint Source Pollution


Livestock and Poultry Operation Inspections
Regulatory Definitions of Large CAFOs, Medium CAFO, and Small CAFOs
Clean Water Act Section 404(g) Factsheet
Factsheet for the final Clean Water Act Section 401 Certification Rule
CAFO Clean Water Act Requirements: Will My Operation Be Regulated
The Navigable Waters Protection Rule – Factsheets
Overview of the Navigable Waters Protection Rule – Factsheet
Mapping and the Navigable Waters Protection Rule – Fact Sheet
Implementing the Navigable Waters Protection Rule – Fact Sheet
Rural America and the Navigable Waters Protection Rule – Fact Sheet
“Typical Year” and the Navigable Waters Protection Rule – Fact Shee
Navigable Waters Protection Rule Photo Appendix

Forest Service

In Brief: Climate Change and Water Perspectives from the Forest Service
Water and the Forest Service
Water Quality Protection Measures
Water Facts
Groundwater-Dependent Ecosystems
Watershed Condition Framework: 2011-2017
National Best Management Practices for Water Quality Management on National Forest System Lands

Water, Air & Soil

National Agricultural Library (NAL)

Water and Agriculture Information Center
Agricultural Environmental Management
Natural Resources and Environment
Soil Management
Water Management

Clean Water Act (CWA)/Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Program Areas

Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)

Water Quality and Quantity
National Water and Climate Center
National Water Management Center
National Water Quality Initiative
Animal Feeding Operations
Identifying Wetland Boundaries

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
Pesticides in the Nation’s Streams and Ground Water (1992-2001)
Animal Feeding Operations: Effects on Hydrologic Resources and the Environment
Toxic Substances Hydrology Program: Animal Feeding Operations
Trends in Pesticide Concentration in Urban Streams in the United States, 1992-2008

State Water Resources Research Institute

Pesticide recovery data for surface water and lab reagent samples analyzed by the USGS National Water Quality Laboratory schedule 2437, water years 2016-17.

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)


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)

Additional Resources

Clean Water Act Posts (Ag & Food Law Blog)
Clean Water Act Jurisdictional Handbook (Environmental Law Institute, 2007)
(Nat’l Conf. of State Legislatures)
Muddy Waters: Why Polluted Groundwater Infiltrating Navigable Waters Should Not Be Excluded From National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting (NI U., 2006)
Clean Water Act – Celebrating 50 Years (California Water Boards, 2022)
Clean Water Act (National Wildlife Federation)