Water Quality Standards: Translating CWA goals into measurable objectives

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Introduction to WQS

Water quality standards (WQS) are aimed at translating the broad goals of the CWA into water body-specific objectives. Ideally, WQS should be expressed in terms that allow quantifiable measurement. WQS, like the CWA overall, apply only to the waters of the United States. As defined in the CWA, “waters of the United States” include only surface waters—such as streams, rivers, lakes, estuaries, coastal waters, and wetlands. Not all surface waters are legally “waters of the United States.” Generally, however, those waters include the following:
  • All waters that are traditionally navigable
  • All interstate waters
  • Intrastate waters used in interstate and/or foreign commerce
  • Tributaries of the above
  • Territorial seas at the cyclical high tide mark
  • Wetlands adjacent to all the above
The exact dividing line between "waters of the United States" protected by the CWA and other waters can be hard, especially regarding ephemeral water bodies and wetlands not adjacent to other “waters of the United States.” In fact, the jurisdictional determination changes from time to time as new court rulings are handed down, new regulations are issued, or the act itself is modified. (For more information on this topic, visit the "Clean Water Act Definition of Waters of the United States.")

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Section 6 of 78