The Clean Water Blog

Nasty Brown liquid discharged from a pipe. Photo credit: Dragana Gerasimoski / Shutterstock

31 Years Late


That’s the number of water pollution permits across the country that are outdated. Water pollution permits are important because they require all major polluters – power plants, refineries, pulp mills, sewage treatment plants and other industries that directly dump pollutants into rivers, lakes and bays - to limit and control their water pollution. Outdated water pollution permits threaten the health of people who fish or swim or rely on drinking water sources from these surface waters, not to mention the wildlife that depend on unpolluted water for their very survival.

The Clean Water Act, our nation’s landmark water pollution law, was enacted in 1972 with a national goal to eliminate all direct dumping of pollution into our nation’s surface waters by 1985.

Spoiler alert: we’ve missed that deadline by 31 years.

However, we have made significant process toward cleaning up many of our rivers, lakes, bays and streams, while continuing to allow industries to dump toxic metals, chemicals and other pollutants into our water.

Water pollution permits are supposed to be updated by states every five years to ensure the most stringent pollution limits are being applied based on improvements in pollution control technologies.  Many states have failed to update these pollution permits regularly, especially the pollution permits for coal-burning power plants. Last year, the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) issued long-overdue protections to control toxic water pollutants from power plants, but these protections won’t be effective unless states update their pollution permits.

To address this significant backlog of outdated permits EPA is proposing to strengthen its oversight of state permits. Clean Water Action, along with thousands of our members submitted comments urging EPA to take action to end the reckless practice of allowing polluters to keep dumping chemicals and other harmful pollutants using outdated and inadequate permits.