History of the CWA, continuedAlthough the Cuyahoga River fire(s) dramatically focused public opinion and motivated action, several federal laws had been in place to regulate activities in surface waters. The Rivers and Harbors Act addressed projects and activities in navigable waters and harbor and river improvements, such as placing dredged or fill material in waterways, altering channels, and constructing dams, bulkheads, jetties, and other structures. In 1948, Congress enacted the Water Pollution Control Act to "enhance the quality and value of our water resources and to establish a national policy for the prevention, control and abatement of water pollution." This was an important step in establishing the basic legal authority for federal regulation of water quality. The act was amended in 1956 to strengthen enforcement provisions and again in 1965 to establish water quality standards for surface waters enforceable by state and federal authorities. Incremental adjustments through 1970 beefed-up reporting requirements, enforcement provisions, and added an antidegradation component.
Despite the improvements achieved by each amendment to the original act, the result of this sporadic legislation was a hodgepodge of law. Eleven reorganizations and restructurings of federal agency responsibilities compounded the difficulty of effectively implementing the law. To solve these problems, the 1972 amendments to the act restructured the authority for water pollution control and consolidated authority in the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was created by Executive Order of the President. Additional adjustments were enacted in 1977 to address long-term funding for wastewater treatment facilities, sludge management, toxic pollutants, and wetland protection; in 1987 to establish stormwater permitting, nonpoint source pollution control, and Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay protection programs; and again in 2000 to support updated water quality standards and pathogen monitoring for recreational waters.