DEEP: 40 Years of the Clean Water Act

40 Years of the Clean Water Act

Connecticut has a proud and lengthy history as a national leader in water quality management. As we draw near the 40th year anniversary of the Connecticut Clean Water Act and the 35th year anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, many rivers, streams, and lakes are cleaner now than they have been in the past 100 years. Rivers such as the Willimantic, Naugatuck, Pequabuck, Quinnipiac, Connecticut and Farmington, once seriously polluted, are now used for many recreational pursuits. Our public water supply reservoirs are provided a level of protection unsurpassed elsewhere in the country. More people than ever are using the state's water resources for enjoyment. Though we have cleaned up most of our worst problems, we have major issues yet to be fully addressed, such as hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen) in Long Island Sound, combined sewer overflows and groundwater contamination.

Legislative interest in water pollution actually began in 1887 when the Connecticut General Assembly authorized the formation of a sewer study commission to "investigate the subject of sewage disposal". The commission report, completed in 1889, recommended the State seek to stop further pollution. Similar legislative study commissions were created in 1913 for the investigation of factory wastes and, again, in 1921 to investigate solutions to eliminate pollution. Finally, in 1925 laws were enacted to create a State Water Commission. The Commissions modest resources and lack of direct regulatory authority greatly limited its effectiveness. By the mid 1960's, water quality conditions were so poor that public outcry and governmental interest increased, starting the process for major change. The following is a chronology of significant water quality related events which helped improve the quality of Connecticut's water resources.


Governor Dempsey appoints a 100-member Clean Water Task Force to investigate the condition of Connecticut's waters and to make recommendations.


The Clean Water Task Force issues a report noting the deplorable condition of many rivers and harbors and recommends dramatic restorative measures.


The Clean Water Act is passed inaugurating Connecticut's modern water pollution control program. Significant new authorities enabled the former Water Resources Commission to require new stringent wastewater treatment for municipal sewerage facilities and industrial discharges.


The Oil Pollution Act creates an emergency spill response program to deal with pollution from spills and leaks.

The Tidal Wetlands Act is passed, halting nearly all losses of the state's remaining 17,000 acres of tidal wetlands.


Connecticut's Water Quality Standards (WQS) for surface water resources are approved by the federal government.

The first Earth Day is celebrated nationwide.


The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is created, combining diverse boards, commissions and agencies to more effectively address environmental issues.

The DEP initiates a survey of Connecticut industries that are discharging to sewage treatment plants and issues orders requiring pretreatment of those discharges.


The Federal Water Pollution Control Act (WPCA) is passed. This is the nation's first modern, comprehensive water pollution law and is modeled, in part, on Connecticut's 1967 Clean Water Act. The WPCA calls for elimination of all discharges to the nation's waters and mandates planning, regulation, and enforcement. Subsequent program grants from this legislation and federal requirements stimulate major expansion of the DEP.

The Federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is created to more effectively address the many environmental problems facing the nation.

The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act is passed, placing Connecticut in the forefront of freshwater protection efforts nationwide.


An Economic Enforcement Act is passed which allows DEP to levy civil penalties against polluters. Subsequently, Connecticut is one of the first states given the authority to administer the federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System; e.g. NPDES discharge permit program.

The second revision of Connecticut's WQS is initiated to conform to new Federal Water Pollution Control Act requirements.

DEP designates for the first time Water Quality Limited Segments for portions of a number of major rivers. The concepts of total maximum daily loads (TMDL) and waste load allocations (WLA) begin to be applied to determine advanced treatment needs for the attainment of fishable and swimmable water quality conditions.

Discharge permits to control pollution from leachate are established for all new sanitary landfills.


The first round of NPDES permits are issued.

A major Ambient Water Quality Monitoring Program for surface water begins in cooperation with the United States Geological Survey.

The first major municipal facilities grant award for correction of combined sewer overflows is presented to Norwalk.

DEP Inland Wetland regulations are implemented. The DEP regulates approximately 40 municipal programs; remaining towns are self-regulated.


The first WLA study is completed for the Quinnipiac River. DEP requires advanced wastewater treatment for all sewage treatment plants which discharge to the River.


Connecticut receives its first grant award from EPA under Section 208 of the Federal WPCA allowing for investigation of non-point sources of pollution, and groundwater protection.

DEP and EPA award a sewerage facilities grant to Plainville for construction of an advanced waste treatment (AWT) facility. This is the first such project resulting from application of the new WLA process.

A new Ambient Biological Monitoring Program is initiated to directly assess the health of aquatic life in rivers and streams.


Due to polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contamination, a health advisory is issued concerning consumption of fish caught in the Housatonic River.

DEP completes its first major lake eutrophication study.  The removal of phosphorous from discharges upstream of the Housatonic River's impoundments of lakes Zoar, Lillinonah and Housatonic is subsequently required.


DEP began to consider land use planning and development as related to nonpoint source management; the Sewer Avoidance Report being the first step.


Connecticut is delegated the authority to administer the Federal Sewerage Construction Grants Program under Section 201 of the federal Clean Water Act.

EPA awards Connecticut its first lake restoration grant for management of the Lake Waramaug water quality problem.


WQS are revised.  New Groundwater Quality Standards are adopted and site specific ground-water classification initiated.  This new system serves as a basis for comprehensive ground and surface water quality management.

A trophic classification study, determining lake and pond conditions, is completed for 70 of Connecticut's major recreational lakes.


Connecticut's statewide Pretreatment Program is approved by EPA.

Enforcement and permit policies and priorities for groundwater discharges are substantially revised to address ground-water protection needs.


Toxicity testing capabilities are developed within DEP's aquatic biology laboratory.

The Diversion Policy Act is enacted requiring permits for new surface and groundwater diversions.  Other legislation is enacted to:  regulate nonresidential underground fuel storage; provide alternative water supplies for contaminated wells; provide grants to municipalities that are required to provide alternative water supplies; and authorities to levy permit related fees to support certain DEP permit related activities.


The Erosion and Sediment Act requiring municipalities to enact regulations for the prevention of water pollution from land use activities is passed.

EPA requires all industrial discharges to achieve best available technology (BAT) requirements, a treatment level Connecticut began requiring of industries in 1967.

At DEP's request, a major aquatic life toxicity study of the Naugatuck River is conducted by EPA researchers. The resulting data and analyses helped shape DEP's and EPA's national water quality criteria program and related national guidance for State WQS.

New state legislation modifies the state's Sewerage Construction Grant Program so that a priority system is developed, as is a yearly project list for grants.


New DEP regulations are adopted for:  permit application and annual fees;  sewage system additives and detergents; and grants to municipalities for potable water supplies.

Connecticut and the General Electric Corporation sign an agreement for a five year study of PCB contamination of the Housatonic River.

Several hundred wells near tobacco fields are found contaminated with the pesticide ethylene dibromide (EDB). The legislature authorizes a $7 million grant program to provide potable water to affected homeowners.

DEP established a groundwater program coordinator to assist municipalities with the development of local groundwater protection techniques.


The Long Island Sound Study (LISS) is initiated following special congressional authorization. 

A Toxicity Reduction Strategy is developed which relies on bioassay testing of municipal and industrial effluent.


Connecticut's Clean Water Fund (CWF) is created.  The CWF provides financial assistance to municipalities for planning, design and construction of sewerage facilities.  The CWF replaces state and federal grant programs that had existed since the 1950s.  State funds are combined with EPA contributed "State revolving funds" (loans) to create the CWF.  

An acute and chronic toxicity control strategy is prepared to address aquatic life toxicity that may remain in effluents following conventional treatment.


The 1987 federal Clean Water Act amendments enable the Long Island Sound Study to become one of the first National Estuary Projects (NEP).  LISS subsequently benefits from annual NEP funds.

Federal Clean Water Act amendments require the establishment of in-stream criteria within State WQS for over 100 chemicals.

DEP's Pretreatment Programs are evaluated by EPA. More than 1,600 industries are inspected for presence of untreated discharges to sanitary sewers. Only 32 of the 1,600 facilities are discovered to be discharging without proper controls and are ordered to install pretreatment.

The Connecticut Legislature establishes an Aquifer Protection Task Force to study the threats facing Connecticut's major groundwater resources and recommends means to improve the protection of such resources.

Amendments to Connecticut's Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act requires delegation of authority to all municipalities statewide. A requirement to find "no feasible and prudent alternatives" for significant projects is established.


New state NPDES permit regulations are adopted. Dischargers of potentially toxic pollutants are more closely regulated.


DEP completes its first Nonpoint Source Assessment and Management Plan. Subsequent approval by EPA results in the annual release of approximately one million dollars in Clean Water Act Section 319 implementation funds. To date, more than 200 separate nonpoint source pollution abatement projects, involving numerous public and private interests, have been financed.

A Rivers Advisory Committee (RAC) is created by the legislature to advise the Commissioner on matters related to the management of rivers and streams.

A legislatively created Aquifer Protection Task Force culminated its two year study with legislative recommendations for an Aquifer Protection Area Act. The Act is subsequently unanimously passed into law, providing for wellhead delineation and protection for high yield sand and gravel aquifers.

The Connecticut and General Electric Corporation five year PCB contamination study of the Housatonic River culminates in an interstate management plan based on addressing sediments in contaminated reaches of the River in Massachusetts, and ongoing monitoring of fish and aquatic life in the reaches of the River in Connecticut.


DEP submits its Wellhead Protection Program Plan to EPA and subsequently is honored as the first state in the country to obtain program approval.

Connecticut begins its first comprehensive reporting system for local wetland agency decisions.

The LISS releases a status report identifying nitrogen reductions as critical to improve dissolved oxygen concentrations in western Long Island Sound where hypoxia (low dissolved oxygen) is a major problem.

The Long Island Sound Research Fund is created to encourage scientific research focusing on the management and restoration of water quality and natural resources in Long Island Sound. The fund subsequently awarded approximately $5 million for 40 research projects undertaken by university and non-profit organizations.


Modification of NPDES permits is completed, requiring routine toxicity testing and reduction of toxic pollutants.


Connecticut WQS is revised to include numeric criteria for toxic pollutants in inland waters and Long Island Sound.

Upgrade of the Seymour sewage treatment plant is completed to help improve water quality in the lower Naugatuck River. The facility is also constructed to remove nitrogen for the benefit of Long Island Sound, thus becoming the first full scale municipal denitrification plant in Connecticut.

DEP published its first annual "Status & Trends" report for authorized (permitted) inland wetland alterations.

At DEP's request, the legislature establishes a Long Island Sound License Plate Program to generate dedicated funds for public access, education, habitat restoration, and estuarine research. 


Permit streamlining legislation is enacted. DEP issues first series of General Permits for minor wastewater discharges, such as cooling water, boiler blowdown, and stormwater runoff from certain industrial facilities and construction sites greater than 5 acres.

The Urban Sites Remedial Action Program is formally enacted into legislation. Additional staff and $25 million in bond funds are authorized to hasten remediation at underutilized or abandoned urban industrial facilities.

The Danbury Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility is completed, representing a major milestone in the improvement of the Still River in western Connecticut. The result of the new advanced treatment system is the dramatic improvement in quality of 14 miles of the Still River and Sympaug Brook.


"An Act Concerning the Funding for River Restoration"  was enacted to create an subaccount of Clean Water Fund to provide grants to municipalities for river restoration projects.

The States of Connecticut and New York and the federal government sign an agreement to implement the LISS Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, pledging their commitment to the restoration and future protection of Long Island Sound.

Connecticut's Comprehensive Groundwater Protection Plan is approved by EPA; one of the first three such approvals in the country.

Upgrades at the Plymouth and Torrington sewage treatment plants result in 10 new miles of excellent fishing opportunities for Connecticut anglers on stretches of the Pequabuck and the upper Naugatuck Rivers.


DEP's (and EPA's) support for the UCONN Cooperative Extension Service NEMO (Nonpoint Source Education for Municipal Officials) Program pays dividends.  The film entitled, "NEMO Educational Videotape:  "Luck Isn't Enough:  The Fight for Clean Water" is recognized for creative excellence by an international film industry group.


DEP Regulations are promulgated to guide all site remediation activities in Connecticut. The resultant "Remediation Regulations" (aka Clean-up Standards) facilitated commercial and industrial property transfers, voluntary remediation, and brownfield remediation activities.  Major revisions to Connecticut's Groundwater Quality Standards are adopted to complement and work with the new Clean-up Standards Regulations.

The Licensed Environmental Professionals (LEP) program is implemented to further facilitate voluntary remediation efforts.  An LEP Board in convened and the task begins for developing implementing regulations such as needed to license LEP's.

Based upon results of a UCONN Environmental Research Institute mercury study funded by DEP, the DEP and the Department of Public Health (DPH) issues statewide statewide fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination.  Additional research is initiated within Connecticut and throughout the northeast United States.

The first statewide watershed management conference is convened with the participation of more than 150 people. DEP makes several organizational changes to promote and facilitate improved watershed management.

Through financing from Connecticut's Clean Water Fund, the Metropolitan District Commission completed initial phases of its combined sewer overflow abatement program in Hartford, thus, significantly reducing combined sewer overflows into the Connecticut River. Combined sewer abatement projects are also proceeding in all other municipalities having such systems.


DEP monitored the Housatonic River watershed as the first phase of a new five year rotating basin monitoring strategy.  Full implementation of the strategy is designed to increase the amount of DEP assessed rivers and streams from approximately 10% to 20% of Connecticut's total resource miles.


DEP's Coastal Nonpoint Source Management Program, required by Section 6217 of the Coastal Zone Management Act, is conditionally approved by EPA and NOAA.

DEP increases staff resources to provide greater technical support for volunteer monitoring groups.


DEP issues the Water Quality Certification for relicensing of the Housatonic River Hydroelectric impoundments.  Requirements to modify streamflow releases to benefit fisheries is required.

DEP submits to the legislature a "Report to the General Assembly on State Water Allocation Policies" with recommendations for improving Connecticut's Diversion Act, stream gauging program and stream flow regulation and management.  The legislature subsequently creates a new Water Planning Council to continue investigations of water supply planning and water allocation and also requires for the first time registered diversions to submit annual water use information to DEP to enable more thorough understanding of existing water allocation commitments.

DEP submits to the legislature a report entitled, "Use of Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether (MTBE) as a Gasoline Additive" in response to many MTBE drinking well contamination incidences.  The legislature subsequently enacts legislation to phase out the use of MTBE by 2003.

Long Island Sound Total Maximum Daily Load Analysis (TMDL) is approved by EPA establishing nitrogen reduction goals, source reductions, implementation plan and schedule.

Clean Water Fund financing, the greatest amount ever awarded in Connecticut, enabled the rebuilding of the Waterbury sewage treatment plant.  Improved effluent quality will benefit both the Naugatuck River and Long Island Sound (nitrogen removal).  (See also the article in DEP's FY2000 annual enforcement report to the legislature.)


Nitrogen Credit Exchange Program legislation is enacted to facilitate implementation of the Long Island Sound Nitrogen TMDL by allowing for nitrogen trading amongst Connecticut's 79 municipal publicly owned treatment plants and issuance of a Nitrogen Discharge General Permit to create the regulatory basis for annual nitrogen trading. The Nitrogen Exchange Program is directed by a Nitrogen Advisory Board.

First 5 year cycle of the Rotating Basin Monitoring Strategy is completed, effectively doubling the water quality assessments of "monitored resources".  The objective of doubling the amount of assessed rivers and streams has been achieved. 


EPA approves Connecticut's revised Water Quality Standards.  Marine dissolved oxygen criteria are revised consistent with new EPA research and the Long Island Sound TMDL, new indicator bacteria criteria for freshwater adopted and clarity is provided for the dredging and dredge material disposal in Long Island Sound.

The Connecticut Guidelines for Erosion and Sediment Control are revised.  A series of training workshops are initiated by DEP and the soil and water conservation districts to help professionals and volunteer commissioners associated with local land use boards understand proper use of the Guidelines.

To date, roughly 270 remediation professional successfully become Licensed Environmental Professionals adding to Connecticut's technical capacity to oversee proper site remediation activities.

First year of the nitrogen credit trading program initiated.  Progress towards achieving the Long Island Sound nitrogen reduction schedule for Connecticut publicly owned sewerage treatment facilities ahead of schedule.

Connecticut's 8 county oriented soil and water conservation districts are reorganized by DEP regulation into 5 watershed based districts both as a means to strengthen watershed management and Connecticut's district system.


The Nitrogen Credit Exchange Program successfully completes its first year of trading, completing the 2002 trade.

Stormwater from Small Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) General Permit was issued.  This general permit applies to all municipalities that have Urbanized Areas as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau.  Specifically, it applies to a town's separate storm sewer system and how the town manages their system and what measures they take to reduce or eliminate the discharge of pollutants to that system.  Registration is required to be submitted in order for the discharges to be authorized by this general permit.


The second successful year of the nitrogen credit trading program.  There was a purchase of $1.4 million in excess credits generated in 2003.  Nearly 30 sewage treatment plants have instituted nitrogen removal, ranging from low-cost retrofits to full-scale reconstruction for nitrogen removal.

Aquifer Protection Land Use Regulations (R.C.S.A. 22a-354i-1 through 10) were adopted February 2, 2004.  The regulations help protect major public water supply wells in stratified drift from contamination.  These regulations prohibit development of new high-risk land use activities (those that use hazardous materials) in aquifer protection areas and require existing high-risk land use activities to register and follow best management practices.  These regulations provide the minimum standards for land use restrictions at the municipal level.

The 2004 Connecticut Stormwater Quality Manual was published.  The purpose of this Manual is to provide guidance on the measures necessary to protect the waters of the State of Connecticut from the adverse impacts of post-construction stormwater runoff.  The guidance provided is applicable to new development, redevelopment, and upgrades to existing development.  The main focus is on site planning, source control and pollution prevention, and stormwater treatment practices.


Adoption of revised technical mapping regulations for Aquifer Protection Areas and publication of model municipal regulations putting in place all the major pieces for implementation of the Aquifer Protection Area Program.

The General Permit for the Discharge of Wastewater Associated with Food Preparation Establishments that Discharge to Sanitary Sewers was issued.

Additional Information

For additional information, contact staff at the Bureau of Water Protection and Land Reuse: (860) 424-3020.