DEFINITION of Water Quality Improvement Act Of 1970

Water Quality Improvement Act Of 1970 is legislation that expanded the federal government's authority over water quality standards and water polluters. The Water Quality Improvement Act Of 1970 grew out of the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act and placed additional limits on the discharge of oil into water where it could damage human health, marine life, wildlife or property. The act also included a number of other provisions intended to reduce water pollution. Federal regulation of water pollution dates back to 1886, when the River and Harbor Act was signed into law.

BREAKING DOWN Water Quality Improvement Act Of 1970

The Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970 expanded Federal authority, and established a State certification procedure to prevent degradation of water below applicable standards.

The EPA noted that, "Despite the improvements achieved by each amendment to the original (1948) Act, the result of this sporadic legislation was a hodgepodge of law. Eleven reorganizations and restructurings of Federal agency responsibility compounded the difficulty of effectively implementing the law. To solve these problems, the 1972 amendments to the FWPCA restructured the authority for water pollution control and consolidated authority in the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The first national goal of the act was the elimination of the discharge of all pollutants into the navigable waters of the United States by 1985. The second national goal was an interim level of water quality that provides for the protection of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation by July 1, 1983. 

Water Pollution Today

Although water pollution has been reduced substantially since the 1970s, the figures for 2018 show that much needs to be done. Over two-thirds of U.S. estuaries and bays are severely degraded because of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution and 45% of U.S. streams, 47% of lakes, and 32% of bays are polluted. In addition, some 40% of America’s rivers are too polluted for fishing, swimming or aquatic life; the corresponding figure for lakes is 46%. Much of the pollution these days is caused by pesticides, whereas in the early 1970s it was direct dumping of chemicals and other pollutants into the water by industry.

Potential accidental water polluters can protect themselves from the liabilities they face under federal water regulations by purchasing marine pollution insurance. This insurance covers losses such as cleanup, damage to natural resources, legal defense and civil penalties. Mobile drilling units, cargo owners and operators, ship yards, and marina owners and operators are examples of businesses that can benefit from having this type of insurance coverage.