The Clean Water Act

The initial US federal law that addressed water pollution in an impactful way was the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. This came in the wake of several political, social, and economic shifts (such as industrialization and globalization) that had left rivers in the US unhealthy and damaged.

This initial law was a step in the right direction but not a total solution. Future amendments sought to increase its implementation and impact.

Those amendments came to a head in 1972, where coordinated effort led to the culmination of these additions becoming known as the Clean Water Act, which:

  • Established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharges into the waters of the United States.
  • Gave EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry.
  • Maintained existing requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters.
  • Made it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained under its provisions.
  • Funded the construction of sewage treatment plants under the construction grants program.
  • Recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by non-point source pollution.

More recent additions and amendments have sought to further strengthen protection for the rivers, water and ecosystems that keep us alive. Read more on the EPA's History of the Clean Water Act page.

The Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act

The Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA) requires us to report on certain aspects of water conservation in our 2016-2021 Strategic Development Plan

We source our water from the municipal Lowell Regional Water Utility (LRWU), and our wastewater flows to the Lowell City Wastewater Utility’s (LRWWU) Duck Islands Waste Water Treatment Plant. These utilities treat the water before it either comes out of our faucets or reenters the Merrimack.

UMass Lowell is also working to reduce impervious surfaces on campus, so that water does not swiftly flow into the rivers as runoff but rather percolates slowly through the ground. Such initiatives lessen erosion and pollution.

Similar initiatives (such as stormwater drainage systems and green roofs) are listed in the 2016-2021 Strategic Development Plan, which the University updates every five years in accordance with MEPA.


We are working hard to help the Merrimack regain its former health and vitality. Each of the steps that have weakened the health of the rivers carries the potential to be reversed to some degree; it is up to us to do so before it is too late. 
Past action at local, state, federal and international levels has worked, so we must keep hope and pressure for these laws and regulations to be maintained, implemented, and strengthened!