Water Quality

With the goal of protecting human health and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces federal clean and safe drinking water laws that provide support for municipal wastewater treatment plants, and takes part in pollution prevention efforts aimed at protecting watersheds and sources of drinking water. The Clean Water Act (CWA) enacted in 1942, and significantly reorganized and expanded in 1972,  puts forward a system to regulate direct and indirect discharges of pollutants in the “waters of the United States,” with the intent to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) passed in 1974, and amended in 1986 and 1996, authorizes and permits the EPA to set national standards for drinking water contaminants. The National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, created in 1972 by the Clean Water Act (CWA), helps address water pollution by regulating point sources that discharge pollutants to the waters of the United States. The Water Quality Standards Regulation (40 CFR 131) establishes requirements for states and tribes to review, revise and adopt water quality standards.

Many small businesses, especially manufacturing, are subject to federal, state or local NPDES or stormwater regulations.  In some cases, businesses can file for exemptions, so it is important to understand what regulations apply to your business. Small business can contact their state SBEAPs for free and confidential assistance.

Water quality regulations and resources


NPDES provides guidance to municipalities and state and federal permitting authorities on how to meet stormwater pollution control goals in as flexible and cost-effective manner as possible.


The NPDES program issues permits to all wastewater dischargers, and offers treatment to establish specific discharge limits, monitoring and reporting requirements.

Animal Feeding Operations

Any facility that currently has capacity, or is proposing to have capacity, that meets or exceeds any one of the federal, large, confined-animal feeding operation (CAFO) thresholds is a point source, as defined by the Clean Water Act (CWA), and may be regulated under the NPDES permitting program.

General NPDES Resources