Clean Water in Indian Country

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) requires EPA to establish regulations to protect human health from contaminants in drinking water, authorizes EPA to develop national drinking water standards and ensure compliance with these standards, and directs EPA to protect underground sources of drinking water through the control of underground injection of fluids.

The primary objective of the Clean Water Act (CWA) is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation’s surface waters.

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SDWA Implementation in Indian Country

EPA directly implements the SDWA in Indian country and currently implements most programs. Tribes are eligible for delegation of certain SDWA programs. Tribes are eligible to receive primary enforcement authority for the drinking water program and eligible for delegation of the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.

Major SDWA provisions of interest to tribes include:

  • Drinking Water Programs
    EPA has developed primary and secondary drinking water standards under its SDWA authority. EPA and authorized tribes enforce the primary drinking water regulations. SDWA regulations require public water systems to monitor for various contaminants, such as fecal coliform and metals, and report violations.
  • Underground Injection Control
    The SDWA Underground Injection Control (UIC) program is a permit program that protects underground sources of drinking water by regulating five classes of injection wells.

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CWA Implementation in Indian Country

The CWA is implemented via several regulatory programs. EPA directly implements the CWA in Indian country and currently implements most programs. Tribes are eligible for delegation of certain CWA programs, and many tribes have been approved to implement CWA provisions.

Major CWA provisions of interest to tribes include:

  • Water Quality Standards
    Section 518(e) of the CWA contains provisions allowing tribes delegation of authority to implement EPA-approved tribal water quality standards.
  • National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program (NPDES)
    The NPDES program controls water pollution by regulating point sources (e.g., pipe, ditch) that discharge pollutants into the waters of the United States.
  • Pretreatment Program
    EPA regulates discharge of wastewater indirectly through sewers to publicly owned treatment works (POTWs).
  • Sludge (Biosolid) Management
    Section 405 of the CWA regulates the land application and the land disposal of sludge - the solid, semisolid or liquid untreated residue generated during the treatment of domestic sewage in a treatment facility.
  • Nonpoint Source Pollution
    The CWA under Section 319 established the Nonpoint Point Source (NPS) Management Program to manage nonpoint sources of pollution.
  • Wetlands
    Section 404 of the CWA establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States, including wetlands.

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Oil Spill Programs - Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plans (SPCC)

The CWA and the Oil Pollution Act provide federal authority to prevent, respond to and clean up an oil spill or threat of an oil spill. EPA’s Oil Spill Program regulates non-transportation-related facilities storing, producing, using, processing, refining or otherwise managing oil of any kind that could reasonably be expected to discharge into the navigable waters of the United States and adjoining shorelines.

  • Oil Spill Programs Implementation in Indian country
    There is no authority for authorized or approved state or tribal SPCC regulatory programs.
  • Coastal and Marine Oil Spills
    EPA is the lead response agency for inland pipeline spills. The U.S. Coast Guard has jurisdiction over coastal/marine oil spills and oil spills that threaten navigable waters.

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