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Federal Money To Implement Clean Water Act

Summer 2011 Issue

The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) is both a tough task master and a dynamo. While complex, at its heart the CWA works like this:

1. Establishes water quality standards for each water body that is comprised of: the "best use" of that water (drinking, fishing, swimming); and, the specific chemical, physical and biological attributes necessary for that water to achieve its best use.

2. Issues binding regulatory controls or limits on anything that sends pollutants into the waters so as to achieve compliance with water quality standards.

3. Enforces the requirements.

4. Evaluates if the controls achieve the desired result and the requirements drive toward compliance with water quality standards.

5. Periodically reviews the adequacy of the standards, the controls, the technology and the results of scientific inquiry to determine what else might need to be done to make each water body serve its best use.

When applied to sewage treatment, industrial discharges, concentrated animal feeding operations, construction sites, urban stormwater runoff, pesticide applications, ballast water, and so on, this effort gets complex and costly.

But clean water is fundamental and achievable - we must make it clean and keep it clean.

A lesser known aspect of the Clean Water Act is that it was and is, a funding statute. Many of you will recall that federal money paid in excess of 50 percent of the costs of most municipal wastewater treatment infrastructure in the 1970's and 80's. That makes sense, as it is the federal Clean Water Act.

Today, New York municipalities face costs for wastewater treatment in excess of $36.2 billion over the next 20 years. While the CWA's requirements remain, the funding is woefully inadequate. National funding for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund was reduced by over 25 percent last year - from $2.1 billion in 2010 to $1.5 billion in 2011. Funding to states to operate the CWA machinery described above is trending downward in real dollars - forcing the elimination of many technical, scientific, training and assistance programs that the states previously deployed. Even presidential priority "Watershed" initiatives, such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, have taken reductions, going from $475 million in 2010 to $300 million in 2011.

Money is tight, but clean water remains essential.

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