The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leads federal efforts to monitor water quality in the nation’s lakes, rivers, streams, and other water bodies. However, in 2018, EPA estimated that nearly 11,000 industrial facilities and municipal wastewater treatment plants had illegally dumped significant amounts of pollution into nearby water bodies.
For World Water Day—a day meant to raise awareness of the importance of clean water access—today’s WatchBlog post looks at EPA’s efforts to monitor and reduce water pollution, and our recommendations for improving this oversight.
How does EPA track water pollution?
Under the Clean Water Act, municipal wastewater treatment plants and industrial facilities must obtain a permit from EPA—or authorized state, tribal, and territorial governments—to discharge pollutants, such as contaminated wastewater, into waters of the U.S.
In FY 2020, about 335,000 facilities had such permits, including more than 700 municipalities with sewer systems that have combined sewer overflows, which can be a major source of pollution during heavy rainfall events. These permits set limits on the amount of pollutants allowed from each source and protect designated uses of the receiving waters. In addition, many facilities are required to monitor and report the amount of pollutants discharged each year to EPA. However, as discussed above, in 2018, nearly 11,000 facilities significantly exceeded their permit limits and illegally discharged pollutants into nearby waters.