The Long-Term Vision for Assessment, Restoration and Protection under the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) Program (“vision”) identifies six goals, including the Protection Goal. As discussed in the vision, the intent of the Protection Goal is to encourage a more systematic consideration of management actions to prevent impairments in healthy waters (i.e., unimpaired waters) in order to maintain water quality or protect existing uses or high quality waters. Although not all States may ultimately choose to use protection approaches, opportunities for protection within the context of state-wide water quality goals can be an important component to achieving water quality objectives. For example, setting CWA 303(d) Program priorities could involve consideration of the restoration potential of impaired waters adjacent or upstream to healthy watersheds. Such coordinated efforts could lead to realizing more effective results than isolated, individual protection or restoration actions. Also, under the protection Goal, healthy waters at risk of becoming impaired, could be identified as part of the CWA 303(d) Program prioritization process.
Some States have used their CWA 401 certification or antidegradation programs to protect healthy waters and habitats. Some Tribes have also promoted the concept of protection in their water programs. Protection provisions are included in the CWA 303(d) regulations, including the opportunity to establish TMDLs for information purposes (“informational TMDLs”) or the need to list threatened waters. EPA is also promoting a voluntary Healthy Watersheds Program whereby it will work with State and other partners to identify healthy watersheds and to develop and implement healthy watershed protection plans to maintain the integrity of those waters. Likewise, States could consider leveraging their existing work to identify high quality waters and Outstanding National Resource waters for antidegradation purposes.
To learn more about how state CWA 303(d) programs have pursued the protection of healthy waters:
- These working draft Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) are being developed by EPA’s Section 303(d) program staff to help clarify key concepts underlying the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 303(d) Vision’s protection goal for states, territories and tribes.
- Summer 2020 resource published by the Environmental Law Institute, developed through a cooperative agreement with EPA’s Clean Water Act 303d program: a Compendium of State Approaches to Protection.
- Protection is one of the six goals of the 2013 Program Vision. Under the Vision, protection focuses on healthy waters, whether of high quality, unimpaired, or with limited impairments (to uses other than those for which protection is being sought).