Key Issues > Water Quality
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Water Quality

Safe and clean water is necessary for human and environmental health and economic well-being. Over the last 40 years, the nation’s water quality and drinking water have improved, but threats to water quality and safety remain. For example, EPA and states have identified almost 39,000 water bodies nationwide that are considered impaired by pollutants so that they do not meet water quality standards set by the states or EPA.

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EPA has broad responsibility for ensuring clean and safe water through implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA).

  • Under the authorities in SDWA, EPA establishes legally enforceable standards that generally limit the levels of specific contaminants in drinking water that can adversely affect public health. Public water systems must meet these health-based requirements and comply with monitoring, reporting, and other requirements established by EPA and responsible states. A key information source for EPA regarding water system compliance with SDWA is data provided by the states.

  • Under the structure of the CWA, EPA and states share responsibility for protecting water quality. States play a key role in managing water pollution from diffuse, or nonpoint sources—such as runoff from farms or construction sites—which is the leading cause of impairment of the nation’s waters. In addition, under the CWA, EPA awards federal funds to states to implement nonpoint source management programs. EPA also implements regulatory programs to reduce pollution from point sources, such as industrial plants, wastewater plants and municipal stormwater runoff. These sources are regulated through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits and technological and water-quality based limits in those permits.

  • EPA has also taken on large-scale watershed restoration efforts, such as those in the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lake regions. These efforts involve protecting aquatic ecosystems and wetlands in these important geographic areas.

  • The CWA and SDWA State Revolving Fund programs help states provide financing to address capital needs for building and upgrading wastewater and drinking water treatment systems and improving water quality.
Looking for our recommendations? Click on any report to find each associated recommendation and its current implementation status.

Nonpoint Source Water Pollution:

Greater Oversight and Additional Data Needed for Key EPA Water Program
Published: May 31, 2012. Publicly Released: Jul 2, 2012.

Chesapeake Bay:

Restoration Effort Needs Common Federal and State Goals and Assessment Approach
Published: Sep 15, 2011. Publicly Released: Sep 15, 2011.

Drinking Water:

Safe Drinking Water Act:

EPA Should Improve Implementation of Requirements on Whether to Regulate Additional Contaminants
Published: May 27, 2011. Publicly Released: Jul 12, 2011.

Wastewater Infrastructure Financing:

Stakeholder Views on a National Infrastructure Bank and Public-Private Partnerships
Published: Jun 30, 2010. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 2010.

More Reports

Missouri River Flood and Drought:

Environmental Regulation:

EPA Should Improve Adherence to Guidance for Selected Elements of Regulatory Impact Analyses
Published: Jul 18, 2014. Publicly Released: Aug 11, 2014.

Coastal Zone Management:

Opportunities Exist for NOAA to Enhance Its Use of Performance Information
Published: Jul 16, 2014. Publicly Released: Jul 16, 2014.

Clean Water Act:

Changes Needed If Key EPA Program Is to Help Fulfill the Nation's Water Quality Goals
Published: Dec 5, 2013. Publicly Released: Jan 13, 2014.

Natural Resources and Environment:

Funding for 10 States' Programs Supported by Four Environmental Protection Agency Categorical Grants
Published: May 6, 2013. Publicly Released: May 21, 2013.

Water Quality:

EPA Faces Challenges in Addressing Damage Caused by Airborne Pollutants
Published: Jan 24, 2013. Publicly Released: Feb 25, 2013.

Energy-Water Nexus:

Coordinated Federal Approach Needed to Better Manage Energy and Water Tradeoffs
Published: Sep 13, 2012. Publicly Released: Oct 15, 2012.

Water Pollution:

Oil and Gas:

Information on Shale Resources, Development, and Environmental and Public Health Risks
Published: Sep 5, 2012. Publicly Released: Oct 9, 2012.

Mississippi River:

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  • portrait of Alfredo Gomez
    • Alfredo Gomez
    • Acting Director, Natural Resources and Environment
    • 202-512-3841