Troubled Waters: An analysis of Clean Water Act compliance, July 2003- December 2004

Released by: Environment Colorado

Executive Summary

When drafting the Clean Water Act in 1972, legislators set the goals of making all U.S. waterways fishable and swimmable by 1983 and eliminating the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waterways by 1985. More than 30 years later, we are far from realizing the Clean Water Act’s original vision.

Using information provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, this report analyzes all major facilitiesa violating their Clean Water Act permits between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004, reveals the type of pollutants they are discharging into our waterways, and details the extent to which these facilities are exceeding their permit levels.

More than two decades after the drafters of the Clean Water Act hoped that all waterways would be pollution-free, we find that facilities across the country continue to discharge more pollution into our waterways than allowed under the law.

Key findings include:

Thousands of facilities continue to exceed their Clean Water Act permits.

• Nationally, more than 3,700 major facilities (62%) exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004. 
• The ten U.S. states that allowed the highest percentage of major facilities to exceed their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once are West Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Utah, the District of Columbia, and Maine. 
• The eight U.S. counties with the most facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permits at least once in this period are Harris County, Texas; Worcester County, Massachusetts; New Haven County, Connecticut; Allegheny County, Pennsylvania; Hartford County, Connecticut; Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana; Erie County, New York; and Fairfield County, Connecticut.

These facilities often exceed their permits more than once and for more than one pollutant.

• Nationally, 436 major facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits for at least half of the monthly reporting periods between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004. 
• Thirty-five (35) facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits during every monthly reporting period between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004.
• The 3,700 major facilities exceeding their permits in the time period studied reported more than 29,000 exceedances of their Clean Water Act permit limits. This means that many facilities exceeded their permits more than once and for more than one pollutant.
• The ten U.S. states that allowed the most exceedances of Clean Water Act permit limits between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004 are Ohio, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana, West Virginia, Massachusetts, and Illinois. These facilities often exceed their permits egregiously.
• Major facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permits, on average, exceeded their permit limits by about 275%, or almost four times the allowed amount.
• The ten U.S. states that allowed the highest average permit exceedance between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004 are Hawaii, Wyoming, South Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Indiana, Mississippi, Delaware, Illinois, and Georgia.
• Nationally, major facilities reported approximately 2,500 instances between July 1, 2003 and December 31, 2004 in which they exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits by at least six-fold (500%). 
• The U.S. states that allowed at least 100 exceedances of at least 500% are Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee, Texas, and Massachusetts.

At a time when our federal leaders should be working with the states to clean up our waterways and enforce the law, the Bush administration has suggested, proposed, or enacted numerous policies that would weaken the Clean Water Act and threaten the future of America’s rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, and oceans. Rather than weakening the Clean Water Act, the Bush administration and our elected officials should tighten enforcement of Clean Water Act programs; strengthen standards to protect our rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands, and coastal waters; and ensure the public’s right to know about water pollution by increasing and improving access to accurate and comprehensive compliance data and discharge reporting.