The Clean Water Act is one of America’s most successful environmental
laws. Clean Water Action’s in-volvement was pivotal to the law’s
original drafting and its passage by Congress in 1972. The law faces
un-precedented challenges in Congress, and much remains to be done to
clean up and protect the nation’s water resources. But there is plenty
of progress worth celebrating today:
No More Polluters’ Free-for-All: Before the Clean Water Act, most pollution was unregulated and factories discharged their wastes directly into rivers, lakes and streams. Now most discharges are limited through permit systems overseen by state and federal agencies. No more direct dumping into the water.
No More “Pollution Shopping”: The Clean Water Act set uniform national water protection standards, and polluters are no longer able to move to states or communities offering weaker protections.
Waterways Restored: From the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, from San Francisco Bay to Barnegat Bay, to the Everglades, the Potomac River and the Cuyahoga (which once caught fire), to Boston Harbor and the Jersey Shore — rivers, lakes, streams, ponds and coastal areas everywhere have seen improvements. All of this clean up progress flows directly from the Clean Water Act. Just about everyone has seen a once-polluted waterway improved, thanks to the Clean Water Act — chances are, you have, too!
Wetlands & Drinking Water Sources Protected: For the first time, this law recognized the value of wetlands as habitat and nursery grounds for fish and wildlife, as buffers against storms and flooding, recharge zones for underground water supplies, and filters that trap pollution and improve water quality. A system of permits closely regulates dredging, filling or development of wetlands. These and other tools protect drinking water sources used by millions of Americans.
Beaches, Beaches, Beaches: Once, New Jersey’s shoreline was often as famous for its sewage spills as for its beaches. The same was true for many other beaches and favorite swimming holes, both fresh and saltwater. Today, those same beaches and waterways are much healthier, providing recreation and economic opportunities that could not exist without clean water.
Clean Water Jobs: Clean water creates and protects jobs. The years since the Clean Water Act’s passage have seen the recreational fishing industry grow such that it now contributes more than $100 billion to the U.S. economy each year and more than one million jobs. The reason for that growth is simple: people don’t want to fish or boat on dead lakes or streams. Other water-based recreation and tourism that depend on clean water yield even greater economic benefits and jobs.
Clean Water Future: The Clean Water Act’s major goals — ending pollution of the nation’s waters and achieving fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for all Americans — have yet to be fully realized. However, they continue to provide an inspiring vision and call to action. Today’s challenge lies in reaffirming the nation’s commitment to these goals and moving forward to deliver on their promise, so that future generations may enjoy clean water.
People Making a Difference: Many Clean Water Act provisions were designed specifically to give ordinary people a chance to participate in decisions about protecting their water. Although it has been necessary to fight from time to time to exercise these rights, people and nonprofit organizations like Clean Water Action have been able to use precedent-setting tools in the law to weigh in on decisions about pollution permits, wetlands and drinking water source protections, water quality standards and more. The law also gives citizens the rights to bring their clean water concerns to court — to hold polluters accountable or to make sure the law is being enforced.