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Section 10: Major Laws and Treaties

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Section 10:

Major Laws and Treaties

76. The central U.S. law regulating water quality is the Clean Water Act (CWA), adopted in 1972. The Act initially focused on point sources, which it regulates through a national program that requires sources to obtain permits for any discharges of controlled pollutants into the nation's "navigable waters." It also increased federal aid to states and localities for sewage treatment facilities.

Though most developed countries treat sewage, treatment levels do not generally remove nutrients from the wastewater that is discharged. One exception is the state of Maryland (U.S.) where all major sewage treatment plants are required to upgrade to enhanced nutrient removal technologies that will remove most of the nutrients from the wastewater.

75. The CWA permitting system has substantially reduced water pollution from point sources in the United States, but nonpoint source pollution remains a serious problem. Since the mid-1990s the Environmental Protection Agency has increasingly focused on requirements in the CWA for states to identify "impaired" water bodies (those that remain polluted even after point sources install technical controls) and to develop Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) requirements for these systems. Some 20,000 water bodies across the nation fall under this heading.

Waters Assessed as Impaired due to Nutrient-Related Causes

The main goal of the CWA was to reclaim the country’s waters to make them swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. The 1972 Act aimed to make all U. S. waters “fishable and swimmable” by 1985. While there have been many success stories, including Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana,the1985 goal has yet to be met.

Point Source and Non-Point Source Pollution is regulated by the CWA.

80. What does total maximum daily load represent? TMDLs represent the maximum levels of specific pollutants that can be discharged into impaired water bodies from all point and nonpoint sources, including a safety margin.

81. Once states calculate total maximum daily loads, what must they do? Once states calculate TMDLs they must assign discharge limits to all sources and develop pollution reduction strategies

U.S. waters are considered impaired if they cannot fully support their aquatic biological communities or other designated uses or conform to guidelines set by states, territories, or tribal governments defining fishable and swimmable water quality.

Impaired U.S. waters, 2000

Ohio River Multistate TMDL

The Ohio River is the largest tributary, by volume, to the Mississippi River and much of it is impaired due to high bacteria counts that affect the recreational uses of the river. The River supplies drinking water and provides recreational uses for over 5 million citizens. The Ohio River watershed covers 204,000 square miles from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cairo, Illinois, where it enters the Mississippi River. The Ohio is 981 miles long and borders Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, and drains several more states.

Ohio River Multistate TMDL

Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) calculations are being developed for the Ohio River to determine how much the inputs of bacteria must be reduced to return the River to health. To do this, the TMDL will examine the sources of bacteria to the River. The Ohio River receives pollutant discharges from numerous stormwater outfalls, industrial point sources, combined sewers (during heavy rains), and agricultural runoff. Water quality standards for bacteria require that all waters be protected for total body contact recreation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delegates authority to the States to regulate pollution under the Federal Clean Water Act, but because the bacteria is found in multijurisdictional locations that cross state boundaries, the EPA is providing coordination and support for the TMDL.

82. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), enacted in 1974, regulates contaminants in public water supplies, which serve about 90 percent of the U.S. population. The law sets mandatory limits on some 90 contaminants to protect public health and recommends voluntary standards for other substances that can affect water characteristics such as odor, taste, and color. The SDWA has significantly improved the quality of drinking-water supplies, but new issues are still emerging.
83. At the international level, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS Convention), finalized in 1982, creates a comprehensive framework for nations' use of the oceans.

What does the convention outline?

The convention outlines each country's rights and responsibilities within its territorial boundaries and in international waters for issues including pollution control, scientific research, resource management, and seabed mining.

Coastal states have jurisdiction to protect the marine environment in their Exclusive Economic Zones (areas typically extending 200 miles outward from shore) from activities including coastal development, offshore drilling, and pollution from ships.