Clean Water Action is celebrating the Clean Water Act’s 40th anniversary this fall. Passage of that law was Clean Water Action’s very first victory, so we’re celebrating that, too — along with our own 40th birthday.
The Clean Water Act has brought incredible cleanup progress, but daunting challenges remain.
Forty years ago, some of the Great Lakes were declared dead. The Chesapeake Bay, San Francisco Bay and other estuaries were choking on pollution, and their fish was unhealthy to eat. The Delaware, Anacostia, Potomac, Colorado and many other rivers were inhospitable to fish, smelled terrible, and were used as dumping grounds for all kinds of noxious pollution. The Everglades and other national treasures were being drained and filled out of existence.
Forty years later, we see huge progress. Where once fish couldn’t survive, today aquatic populations thrive, attracting anglers, boaters and swimmers. Where once people stayed away from our waters because they smelled too bad, today revitalized lakeshores and river banks support tens of thousands of jobs in local communities.
This progress didn’t just happen. Having a strong law was important. Having Clean Water Action around — to make sure the law was implemented and enforced, to push for strong clean-ups and to challenge polluters who were still dumping into our rivers and streams — was equally important.
Despite this progress, we’re nowhere near meeting the Clean Water Act’s goals of fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for all Americans. In addition to the old pollutants, we now face toxic chemicals that we can’t see or smell but which are toxic even at very low levels, climate change impacts, runoff of pollution from parking lots, roads, lawns and farms, and even new contaminants that can change the sex of fish!
At the same time, weakening changes made under the Bush Administration have left small streams and wetlands outside the protection of the Clean Water Act, putting drinking water for 117 million Americans at risk. Much unfinished Clean Water Act business remains before us — eliminating the exemptions enjoyed by Big Agriculture, for example.
Adding to these challenges are the unprecedented attacks on the Clean Water Act led by polluters and their allies in Congress. Over the past year and a half, the U.S. House has voted more than 300 times to weaken or roll back key environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act. Instead of working to clean up our water and address additional challenges, we’ve spent too much time in the last year defending basic safeguards.
As I reflect on 40 years of progress under the Clean Water Act, on the many challenges before us, and Clean Water Action’s role, I am reminded of just how critical support from members like you has been over the years. Our success cleaning up and restoring waters all across the country could not have happened without you.
Thank you for your membership, and for all you do to protect your local lakes, rivers and streams. Together we will continue to make great progress toward the goal of fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for all Americans.
Yours for clean water,
Robert Wendelgass -President & CEO, Clean Water Action