Water Resources

Laws and Regulations

The BLM has responsibilities to protect water quality based on mandates of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Clean Water Act, and other laws and regulations:

Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, as amended (43 U.S.C. 1701 et seq.)

FLPMA outlines functions of the BLM Directorate, provides for administration of public lands through the BLM, provides for management of the public lands on a multiple-use basis, and requires land-use planning including public involvement and a continuing inventory of resources. The Act establishes as public policy that, in general, the public lands will remain in Federal ownership.

Inventory — FLPMA, Sec. 102. (a)(2) states that “the national interest will be best realized if the public lands and their resources are periodically and systematically inventoried and their present and future use is projected through a land use planning process…”

Multiple-Use and Sustained Yield — FLPMA, Sec. 102. (a)(7) states that public land “management will be on the basis of multiple use and sustained yield…”

Protect Quality — FLPMA, Sec. 102. (a)(8) directs that “the public lands be managed in manner that will protect the quality of …water resource” and other values, and that the public lands “will provide for outdoor recreation and human occupancy and use.”

The Clean Water Act of 1987, as amended (33 U.S.C. 1251)

The activities most likely to generate water pollution on BLM lands are timber management, livestock grazing, road building, mining, and oil and gas development. Many of these activities are governed by the CWA and state laws implementing it.

Objectives — The objective of the CWA is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Title I of the Act establishes the goals of 1) eliminating the discharge of pollutants into navigable waters; and 2) achieving interim water quality that will protect fish, shellfish, and wildlife while providing for recreation (“fishable and swimmable”) in and on the water whenever attainable. The Act also states that the “discharge of toxic pollutants” is prohibited (33 U.S.C. § 1251(a)).

Regulatory Tools — The CWA contains a broad range of regulatory tools that states and the Federal government can use to achieve the statutory goals and objectives. These tools include the following major elements:

  • A prohibition of discharges, except as in compliance with the CWA (§ 301);
  • A permit program to authorize and regulate certain discharges (§ 402);
  • A process for cooperative Federal/state implementation (§§ 401 and 402);
  • A system for preventing, reporting, and responding to spills (§ 311);
  • A permit program for governing the discharge or placement of dredge or fill material into the nation’s waters (§ 404); and
  • Strong enforcement mechanisms (§§ 309 and 505).

Amendments — In addition, amendments to the CWA in 1987 established a comprehensive program for controlling toxic pollutants, added a state requirement to develop and implement programs to address nonpoint source pollution, authorized wastewater treatment assistance, and revised many of the CWA’s regulatory, permit, and enforcement provisions.

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Under NEPA, Federal projects require analysis of potential impacts to human health and the environment. Although an extensive analysis is not required for every project, NEPA provides for a “hard look” at potential impacts to ensure Federal projects do not negatively impact human health and the environment. This analysis requires an interdisciplinary effort and water resources are just one of the resources evaluated. Additionally, NEPA requires a public process, providing BLM the opportunity to disclose potential impacts to the public and allowing the public to provide input to BLM.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 (16 U.S.C. 1131 et seq.)

The Wilderness Act provides for the designation and preservation of Wilderness Areas. Water and related resources, such as aquatic habitats, may contribute to wilderness designation. A wilderness designation may result in federally reserved water rights to maintain the wilderness characteristics.

Wild and Scenic River Act of 1968, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1271 et seq.)

This legislation states that “certain selected rivers of the nation which, with their immediate environments, possess outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural, or similar values, shall be preserved in free-flowing condition, and that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.”

The act also reserved to the United States the amount of unappropriated water flowing through the public lands necessary to preserve and protect in free-flowing condition the specific values which were responsible for designation of the watercourse. The act, however, does not automatically reserve the entire unappropriated flow of the river.

The act also provides for the development and management of certain rivers and authorizes the Secretary to exchange or dispose of suitable Federally-owned property for non-Federal property within the authorized boundaries of any Federally-administered component of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Executive/Secretarial Orders

Executive Order 11988, Floodplain Management directs Federal agencies to take actions to reduce the risk of flood loss, to minimize the impacts of floods, and to restore and preserve the natural and beneficial values of floodplains.

Executive Order 11990, Protection of Wetlands directs Federal agencies to minimize the destruction, loss, and degradation of wetlands, and to preserve and enhance the beneficial values of wetlands.


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Inventory, Monitoring and Assessment
·Water Quality
·Water Quantity
Resource Use and Management
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Salinity Program
Technical Guidance and Policy
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