The Rivers and Harbors Act, enacted by Congress in 1899 and signed into law by President William McKinley, was the first federal water pollution act in the United States. It focuses on protecting navigation, protecting waters from pollution, and acted as a precursor to the Clean Water Act of 1972. Two important sections, 13 and 10, are referred to in lawsuits to this day. Section 10 prohibits obstructions that hinder navigable capacity of any waters without the approval of Congress. Section 13 states that it is unlawful to discharge, deposit, throw, etc, substances from shore or floating craft into a tributary or navigable water. In recent years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies have filed lawsuits against large corporations for illegal discharges into rivers and harbors.
Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899
It shall not be lawful to construct or commence the construction of any bridge, causeway, dam, or dike over or in any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, canal, navigable river, or other navigable water of the United States until the consent of Congress to the building of such structures shall have been obtained and until the plans for (1) the bridge or causeway shall have been submitted to and approved by the Secretary of Transportation, or (2) the dam or dike shall have been submitted to and approved by the Chief of Engineers and Secretary of the Army. However, such structures may be built under authority of the legislature of a State across rivers and other waterways the navigable portions of which lie wholly within the limits of a single State, provided the location and plans thereof are submitted to and approved by the Secretary of Transportation or by the Chief of Engineers and Secretary of the Army before construction is commenced. When plans for any bridge or other structure have been approved by the Secretary of Transportation or by the Chief of Engineers and Secretary of the Army, it shall not be lawful to deviate from such plans either before or after completion of the structure unless modification of said plans has previously been submitted to and received the approval of the Secretary of Transportation or the Chief of Engineers and the Secretary of the Army. The approval required by this section of the location and plans or any modification of plans of any bridge or causeway does not apply to any bridge or causeway over waters that are not subject to the ebb and flow of the tide and that are not used and are not susceptible to use in their natural condition or by reasonable improvement as a means to transport interstate or foreign commerce.
Section 13 of the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899
That it shall not be lawful to throw, discharge, or deposit, or cause, suffer, or procure to be thrown, discharged, or deposited either from or out of any ship, barge, or other floating craft of any kind, or from the shore, wharf, manufacturing establishment, or mill of any kind, and refuse matter of any kind or description whatever other than that flowing from streets and sewers and passing therefrom in a liquid state, into any navigable water of the United States, or into any tributary of any navigable water from which the same shall float or be washed into such navigable water...
EPA's Hudson River PCBs Superfund Reassessment and Proposed Remediation Plan
US Code Collection: Deposit of Refuse in Navigable Waters (Cornell Law School)