The Clean Water Act at 40
Oct 18, 2012 Posted by Dawn Merritt
By Scott Kovarovics, Acting Executive Director, Izaak Walton League
In a year of anniversaries (like the Izaak Walton League’s 90th), today we mark another very important milestone. Forty years ago, spurred on by burning rivers, dead lakes, and fouled streams – and decades of piecemeal state efforts to deal with water pollution – Congress approved the Clean Water Act. They did it with overwhelming bi-partisan support and enough votes to override a presidential veto.
The seeds of this landmark legislation were planted by League in the 1930s. As we look back today, we can celebrate the progress we’ve made in improving our nation’s waters. Industrial pollution that flowed directly into our streams and rivers has been cut dramatically by national standards and a permit system. Millions of Americans fish, swim, and recreate in waters that were a major public health threat 40 years ago. And the Clean Water Act has played a crucial role in slowing wetland drainage, helping to conserve essential waterfowl habitat, protect communities from flooding, and recharge ground water supplies on which millions of people rely for drinking water.
But in some respects, our success made us complacent. Most Americans born after 1970 have never seen a river on fire or walked past a lake or stream choked with pollution and garbage as far as the eye can see. We don’t think twice about drinking water from the tap at home or letting our dogs (and kids) splash in a small neighborhood stream. And we don’t spend time thinking how the Clean Water Act contributed to these outcomes – or how quickly progress can be reversed.
Today, pollution running off backyards, farm fields, and parking lots is the most serious threat to water quality. It’s harder to see than pollution coming from a factory pipe, but it’s no less harmful. However, the tools for tackling this type of pollution are much weaker, frequently voluntary, and often ineffective. In addition, a decades-long downward trend in annual wetland losses reversed over the past 5 years. The pressure to drain, tile, and convert wetlands to crop land is growing nationwide, and it’s especially strong in the prairie pothole region of the upper Midwest. Wetlands in this region and across the border in Canada provide habitat for at least 50 percent of North America’s waterfowl populations. If we lose these wetlands, duck populations are sure to decline – along with quality hunting opportunities across the country.
The bi-partisan consensus in Congress on conservation legislation like the Clean Water Act vanished years ago. Over the past two years alone, some in Congress – especially in the U.S. House of Representatives – have waged a concerted campaign to weaken and undermine the Clean Water Act. And they’ve paid little political price despite the fact that poll after poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans rank clean water as our nation’s most important conservation issue. Unfortunately, not enough people are speaking out against these congressional attacks. Perhaps that’s because most people assume that protections for our waters are set in stone.
The truth is that these protections are eroding just as the force of the flowing water erodes a large rock in a river – but much more quickly. The 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act provides an opportunity to celebrate how far we’ve come, but it’s also the time to redouble our commitment to defending those gains and to safeguard the precious waters around the corner and across the country.Share |
Re: The Clean Water Act at 40
Oct 28, 2012 | Benjamin Hayes | email@example.comClean water is already a defining issue in many developing countries and a source of disease and illness. In the U.S. aquifers are being drained when surface water is insufficient. And, as well pointed out in this article, pollutants are not only a threat to clean water, they are destroying and permanently changing ecosystems. It is a big and important issue.