Analytical Review of Federal Water Pollution
MARK D. HOLLIS*
HARVEY F. LUDWIG**
The Water Pollution Problem
In recent years the unprecedented growth of urban
centers and associated industry has resulted in severe
deterioration of stream quality with two serious effects:
(1) impairment of stream water quality to the point
where conventional water treatment plants can no
longer remove the pollutants, and (2) deterioration
of fish and wildlife and of recreational values.
Figure 1, showing the water re-use cycle, is a sim-
plified illustration of the mechanics of water pollution
control programs. Water, in being used by people and
industry, becomes polluted. The polluted water-
sanitary sewage and industrial waste-is collected in
sewers and eventually discharged to streams. Farther
downstream water is again drawn from the stream and
becomes-after undergoing purification by such pro-
cesses as filtration and chlorination-a new source of
The diagram shown in Figure 2 illustrates the
reason why the national water pollution control situa-
tion is so critical at this time. As indicated, the supply
of water in any given region is essentially constant.
*Assistant Surgeon General, U. S. Public Health Service,
Washington D. C.
"*Chief, Engineering Resources Program, U. S. Public Health
Service, Washington, D. C.
Figure 1.-The Water Re-use Cycle.
In earlier years, when the population was smaller and
mostly rural, and when industrial production was
small, water scarcity problems were confined to a few
relatively dry areas. Since 1900 demands for water
have steadily increased, and at an accelerating rate, due
to increasing population and industry and their con-
centration in metropolitan centers. The by-product
wastes from people and industry have correspondingly
increased, causing more and more pollution and
rendering more and more stream water unfit for fur-
ther use. This is a vicious circle or self-compounding
situation that is reaching critical limits. Last year more
than 1,000 cities experienced water shortages. What
has actually happened in many areas is a build-up of
water demands to the limit of natural water supply
corresponding to cycles of "wet" years. When the in-
evitable "dry" year arrives the situation is promptly
"critical," as it was last year in the "dust bowl" region.
Because of these developments we are witnessing in
the nation a gradual transition in priorities for water
use, from a high priority for agricultural purposes to
a more prominent recognition of the need to feed our
industrial and municipal machine.
Present needs for water to support community
living and associated industries now amount to a half
million gallons of water per person per year. By 1975
NS WATER SUPPLY IS CONSTANT
SA GROWING POPULATION
SAN EXPANDING ECONOMY
F E d e a a -19
Figure 2.-Estimated Increases in Demand for Water, 1900-1975.
-19M ri- 0 1 Q ) I"4::: 795 7
Figure 3.-Increase in Pollution, 1900-1950.
our population will be in the 200 million range and
industry is expected to at least double the 1950 level.
Water requirements to sustain these new levels will
The solution to the growing water problem must
be in the conservation of water resources. In any
given region the supply of water is essentially fixed.
Some conservation in use can be accomplished by
construction of dams to impound flood waters for
later release. By and large, however, we must look to
water pollution control, through treatment of sewage
and wastes, as the primary key to the national water
resources problem. Through treatment of sewage and
wastes to remove pollutants, stream quality can be
maintained to permit repeated re-use as the stream
flows from city to city and from industry to industry.
This same treatment prevents deterioration of fish
and wildlife and preserves recreational values.
The pollution situation we have mentioned is
serious enough considering only the increasing volume
of sewage and wastes. Figure 3 illustrates the build-up
of sanitary sewage and of similar organic wastes from
SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANT CONSTRUCTION
kil V U 11 1;-Jj
Figure 4.-Sewage Treatment Plant Construction 1915-1950.
municipal li r years indus-
trial was -4 s much the
same as te problem of treat-
ing ind complex due to
developmeo-t "al~al the mush-
roomning in its multitudi-
nous aspedcit& ds of new syn-
thetic com ip i.y into wastes from
such plants, aects on treatment
processes, on are very poorly
understood. '*. .W".mpound the prob-
lem. We kno.n'"ficance of these
new wastes lence, we have not
as yet even method for measuring
and expressing'S 'l' place on the stream.
This is the reasol fig: f it are not included in
the graph in Figt S' I the increasing pollution
load over the years. .
An indication of ithe j tseNl status of waste treat-
ment construction. is panAted in Figure 4, which is
a record of municipa~- dirures for sewage treat-
ment since 1915. The C4a- shown the extreme sensi-
tivity of this type of tii*4con to economic trends.
Construction felloff dumi the depression, until being
primed by New DeSl f igaig, then was greatly re-
duced during World W9ar i, then again built up fol-
lowing the war until ihe advent of Korea, etc. The
important point is tlat ver jhe period of World War
II, when the main buaid-up of population and industry
in metropolitan centers took place, there was very
little matching construction of treatment works.
The actual significance of these events is of course
determined by the net effect on streams. The actual
pollution load discharged to streams, following treat-
ment, is estimated to equal, over the period 1950-1955,
the loading of raw sanitary sewage from 50 million
people. The average expenditure for municipal sewage
treatments works over this same period was $200 mil-
lion. With the expected continuing increases in popu-
lation and industry, and considering expected obsoles-
cence of existing works, we estimate that the rate of
expenditure must be approximately doubled over the
period 1955-65 if the net loading on streams is not to
increase. If the average expenditure continues at
$200,million, the net loading on streams by 1965 will
increase to the raw sewage equivalent of 65 million
In addition to these municipal requirements, com-
parable increases are needed in expenditures by in-
dustry to treat wastes not discharged into municipal
sewers. This type of data is difficult to obtain, but
we estimate the needed annual expenditure to be
comparable to those for sanitary sewage.
Current Water Pollution Control Program
The Federal program for water pollution control
stems from the importance of water as a national re-
source and from the need for direct federal participa-
tion in interstate pollution situations.
The Federal program, as authorized by the Water
Pollution Control Act of 1948, recognizes that pollu-
tion control is primarily a state responsibility, and only
through strong state programs can the job be done.
The Federal role therefore is essentially to support the
states, principally through research, technical assis-
tance, financial aid to state and interstate agencies,
and limited control over interstate pollution. The
various aspects of the Federal program are reviewed
(1) Research-to provide the fundamental knowl-
edge which is the basis of control operations, especially
with respect to new types of wastes but also for de-
veloping more economical treatment processes for the
increasing volumes of the older types. The new Taft
Sanitary Engineering Center is filling an important
role as a long-needed national "hub" for research in
this field. Also, the Public Health Service research
grants program in water pollution, averaging about
$200,000 per year since 1946, has materially helped
a number of universities to become established in sani-
tary engineering research operations.
(2) Consulting Services-in support of states and
communities, to help bridge the gap between new
technical knowledge and its practical application.
(3) Development of Watershed Programs-this is a
continuing inventory of pollution sources, types, and
amounts in each of the 14 major drainage basins, and
assessment of these data to determine treatment needs
and to establish water quality standards. Now largely
completed, these data will be kept up to date as the
basis for proceeding with corrective actions.
(4) Interstate Cooperation-this has been fostered
through the development of both interstate compacts
and regional councils. At present five interstate com-
missions are carrying on water pollution control ac-
tivities under compact agreements, four of which have
been approved by the Congress. The largest-the Ohio
River Valley Water Sanitation Commission ("ORSAN-
CO")-is the only commission granted regulatory au-
thority by the member states.
The formation of such compacts is a time-con-
suming process-the Ohio Compact, for example, took
18 years-and likely may not include regulatory au-
thority. Emphasis has therefore shifted towards the
regional council, composed of the chief engineers of
of the participating state agencies. Seven such councils
are now in operation and cover most of the country.
They encourage interstate collaboration and, by dem-
onstrating the value of such action, can pave the way
for formation of compacts when these have been found
Another effort for promoting interstate coopera-
tion has been encouragement of uniform state legis-
lation. A model state law, developed jointly by the
Public Health Service and the Council of State Govern-
ments, has been helpful to 28 states. In 1948 only 14
states had laws which could be considered reasonably
comprehensive; at present 29 have adequate legislation.
(5) Enforcement-this is limited to interstate pol-
lution situations-where the health of the people of
one state is affected by pollution from another. Figure
5 shows some 108 places where such conditions or po-
tential conditions are believed to exist. The enforce-
ment mechanics provided by the 1948 Act are very
cumbersome and consequently have not been applied
to any significant extent. In some 10 potential enforce-
ment cases remedial measures were brought about
through Public Health Service efforts in acting as in-
termediary with the states involved.
(6) Financial Assistance-Grants to support state
programs have averaged one million dollars per year-
and in turn have stimulated state expenditures of
about three times this amount. Experience has shown
that state expenditures decrease when Federal support
decreases and vice versa.
The 1948 Act also authorized loans to communities
at an interest rate of 2 per cent for construction of
treatment works (in the amount of $22.5 million per
year) and also for grants for preparation of project
plans ($1 million per year). Neither of these authori-
zations has ever been implemented by appropriations.
(7) Other Features-the 1948 Act provided for a
Presidentially-appointed Advisory Board with majority
representation from outside the Federal Government.
This group has been most helpful in keeping the pro-
gram geared to practical realities.
," ,: r: : .
.:, .*", ..* .^_', ? "1' ,:
Figure 5.-Distribution of Interstate Pollutional Problems.
Another valuable outside group is the National
Committee on Industrial Wastes, which has helped us
keep abreast of the needs and point of view of industry,
and to collaborate closely with industry-sponsored re-
search and other technical projects to develop im-
proved methods for industrial waste processing.
The Present Situation
The 1948 Water Pollution Control Act was a trial
measure, limited to a five-year period and then ex-
tended for three more years. The present expiration
date is June 30, 1956. Based on our accumulated ex-
perience, the Administration has proposed legislation
to amend the 1948 Act and place it on a permanent
basis. Mr. Dondero of Pennsylvania has introduced
this measure as House Resolution 3426.
The essence of the proposed act is that the basic
principles of the current act are sound and ought to
be continued-with certain modifications as indicated
by past experience. The main needs are to accelerate
construction to catch up with current problems, and
for accelerated research to keep practice in tune with
developing new problems. The important proposed
new features are the following:
(1) Deletion of Construction Loans-as already
mentioned, funds for such loans have never been pro-
vided; hence their provision has served as a deterrent
to many municipalities hesitant to go ahead while
waiting for this potential aid to develop. A careful
review of past experience of the Federal Government
in the area of construction grants to communities-e.g.,
as were provided pursuant to the Community Facili-
ties Act (PL 139)-does not furnish much evidence of
substantial need for this kind of assistance. The prob-
lem appears to be more of reorganizing municipal
financing mechanics, especially to establish the concept
of waste disposal as part of the community's "total
water service"-and hence paid for as part of the
monthly charges for water supply plus removal and
disposal of the used water.
(2) Strengthening of State Programs-experience
has shown Federal support is essential for stimulating
state programs, and only through strengthened state
efforts can the necessary step-up in construction be
achieved. The proposed bill would provide for finan-
cial grants on a matching basis, as well as expert con-
sultation on specialized problems.
(3) Accelerated Research-this means strengthening
of both intramural and extramural research. The new
facility at Cincinnati provides the plant for an efficient
expansion of our attack on such problems as detecting,
collecting, analyzing, and evaluating new waste com-
pounds and adapting treatment processes to remove or
inactivate deleterious materials. These studies would
be supplemented through contract research with other
institutions having facilities better adapted to par-
A second approach is a considerable increase
planned in the Public Health Service research grants
program in sanitary engineering, administered by the
National Institutes of Health. The object here is to
develop the latent sanitary engineering research po-
tential at universities and other institutions through-
out the country. Experience has shown that such grants
often have far-reaching catalyzingg" effects by helping
institutions to become established in this field of re-
search and thus able to take advantage of potential
support from other sources. Research fellowships are
also planned, to attract engineers and scientists to
graduate study in sanitary engineering and hence in-
crease the trained manpower available for pollution
(4) Improved Enforcement-a feasible system of en-
forcement at interstate boundaries where serious inter-
state pollution has occurred-or is shaping up-would
be an effective means for stimulating intrastate cor-
rective measures. Hence the proposed new act would
streamline the present enforcement procedures. Under
the proposed plan reported pollution situations would
be investigated by local hearing boards, on which the
state allegedly producing the pollution would be repre-
sented. Court action would promptly follow in in-
stances where pollution is found and corrective meas-
ures not undertaken within a reasonable time.
Besides such corrective measures, a preventive pro-
cedure is proposed through the establishment of water
quality standards at state lines. Such standards would
be set up by mutual agreement between the states
concerned, in cooperation with interested Federal
agencies, municipalities, and industries.
U.S.P.H.S. to date has produced and is keeping
current, by major watersheds, the basic data needed
for intelligent control operations. The numerous
other aspects of our state support program are paying
real dividends in moderating the effects of excess pol-
lution. We have completed our move into the new
Taft Center at Cincinnati, and a good beginning has
been made in developing this facility as a much needed
national hub for sanitary engineering research and
related technical consultation and assistance. De-
velopment of knowledge in the field of water supply,
water pollution control, and other fields of sanitary
engineering has not kept pace with the problems. As
one views the future needs in these fields, it is quite
clear that our greatest usefulness will be in providing
fundamental knowledge so states and cities can solve
their own problems.
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