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Water: Laws & Executive Orders

Laws & Executive Orders

There are a number of federal statutes passed by Congress and signed into law by the President that are central to the Office of Water’s mission. In addition, Presidential Executive Orders (EOs) play a central role in a number of Office of Water activities. EOs are legally binding orders that direct EPA and other federal agencies in their execution of Congressionally established laws and policies.


  • The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the cornerstone of surface water quality protection in the United States. (The Act does not deal directly with groundwater nor with water quantity issues.) The statute employs a variety of regulatory and non-regulatory tools to reduce direct pollutant discharges into waterways, finance municipal wastewater treatment facilities, and manage polluted runoff. These tools are employed to achieve the broader goal of restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation's waters so that they can support "the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and recreation in and on the water."
    • The Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000 is an amendment to the Clean Water Act (Section 406) that authorizes EPA to award grants to eligible states, territories and tribes to develop and implement beach water quality monitoring and notification programs for coastal and Great Lakes recreational beach waters. The grants also help these governments develop and implement programs to inform the public about the risk of exposure to disease-causing microorganisms in the water at the nation’s beaches.  
  • The Coastal Zone Act Reauthorization Amendments (CZARA) Section 6217 addresses nonpoint pollution problems in coastal waters. Section 6217 requires states and territories with approved Coastal Zone Management Programs to develop Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Programs. In its program, a state or territory describes how it will implement nonpoint source pollution controls, known as management measures, that conform with those described in Guidance Specifying Management Measures for Sources of Nonpoint Pollution in Coastal Waters. This program is administered jointly with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Exit EPA Disclaimer.  As of 2010, 34 states and territories participate in this program. 
  • The Endangered Species Act (ESA) provides a program for the conservation of threatened and endangered plants and animals and the habitats in which they are found. The lead federal agencies for implementing ESA are the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Service.  Federal agencies are directed, under section 7(a)(1) of the ESA, to utilize their authorities to carry out programs for the conservation of threatened and endangered species. Thus, Federal agencies must consult with NOAA Fisheries Service and/or FWS, Under section 7(a)(2) of the ESA, on activities that may affect a listed species. 
  • The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act  Exit EPA Disclaimer (MPRSA - also known as the Ocean Dumping Act) prohibits the dumping of material into the ocean that would unreasonably degrade or endanger human health or the marine environment. Virtually all material ocean dumped today is dredged material (sediments) removed from the bottom of waterbodies in order to maintain navigation channels and berthing areas. Other materials that are currently ocean disposed include fish wastes, human remains, and vessels.
  • The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the main federal law that ensures the quality of Americans' drinking water.Under SDWA, EPA sets standards for drinking water quality and oversees the states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards. 
  • Title IV of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (Bioterrorism Act) addresses drinking water security and safety. Title IV requires drinking water systems serving more than 3,300 persons to conduct assessments of their vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks or other intentional acts.

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Executive Orders

  • Executive Order, Stewardship of the Ocean, Our Coasts, and the Great Lakes Exit EPA Disclaimer, July 19, 2010 – On July 19, 2010, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing the National Ocean Council.  The Executive Order established for the first time a comprehensive, integrated National Policy for the stewardship of the ocean, our coasts,and Great Lakes, which sets our Nation on a path toward comprehensive planning for the preservation and sustainable uses of these waterbodies.  
  • Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance Exit EPA Disclaimer , October 5, 2009 – On October 5, 2009, President Barrack Obama signed an executive order setting sustainability goals for federal agencies and focuses on making improvements in their environmental, energy, and economic performance. The EO requires federal agencies to improve water efficiency and management by: (1) reducing potable water consumption intensity 2 percent annually through fiscal year 2020, or 26 percent by the end of fiscal year 2020, relative to a fiscal year 2007 baseline; (2) reducing agency industrial, landscaping, and agricultural water consumption 2 percent annually, or 20 percent by the end of fiscal year 2020, relative to a fiscal year 2010 baseline; and (3) identifying, promoting, and implementing water reuse strategies consistent with state law that reduce potable water consumption.
  • Executive Order 13508, Chesapeake Bay Protection and Restoration Exit EPA Disclaimer , May 12, 2009 – On May 12, 2009, President Barack Obama signed an executive order creating a Federal Leadership Committee for the Chesapeake Bay, chaired by EPA. The executive order calls for EPA and six other federal agencies to coordinate and expand federal tools and resources to help speed cleanup of the nation’s largest estuary. For additional information and to view a copy of the May 2010 Chesapeake Bay Executive Order Strategy, released in May 2010, please visit the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order website Exit EPA Disclaimer .  
  • Executive Order 13423, Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management Exit EPA Disclaimer , January 24, 2007 – On January 24, 2007, President George W. Bush signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to implement water-efficiency measures, including the purchase, installation, and implementation of water-efficient products and practices. Beginning in fiscal year 2008, agencies were required to reduce water consumption intensity, relative to their fiscal year 2007 baseline, through cost-effective life-cycle measures by 2 percent annually (or 16 percent total) by the end of fiscal year 2015. 
  • Other related executive orders that help to protect human health and the environment.

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Homeland Security Presidential Directivies (HSPDs)

The government uses these directives to disseminate Presidential and Homeland Security decisions on national security matters. HSPDs 7, 8, 9, and 10 are of particular relevance to water security issues.

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