In June of 1969, an oil slick on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. A river on fire and other similar incidents caused a national awakening to water quality issues. To what end?
The US federal government passed the Federal Water Pollution Control Act in 1948. In response to deteriorating water quality, water on fire, fish kills and other concerns, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was significantly restructured and expanded through an amendment in 1972. It became known as the “Clean Water Act” (CWA). If you’d like to look it up and read it for yourself, you can find it in 33 U.S.C. §1251 et seq. (1972).
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for enforcing the Clean Water Act and it gets mixed reviews on its effectiveness. Nancy Stoner, Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water, shared a blog post celebrating the good work the EPA has done over the last forty years. In it, she offers some compelling reasons to support the legislation though she’s also candid about some of the enforcement shortcomings.
Of course there are also detractors who point to the inefficiencies of the legislation and the government responsible for its enforcement. There are also partisan concerns like this post on the Care2 website by Beth Bucsynski who suggests the Republicans tried to remove CWA protections from “about 20 percent of the wetlands in the U.S.”. Her frustration is clear, as is her feeling the the legislative process is corrupt and the EPA’s enforcement of the CWA is failing America. So what’s an Environmental Protection Agency to do?
In her blog post, Nancy Stoner writes, “The absolute best path forward is partnership – among all levels of government, the private sector, non-profits and the public.” We agree; while the EPA is responsible for enforcement, we all have an interest in helping find the balance between conservation and commerce. We can do that through better public education on water resource issues, better planning and better communication of local issues before they become regional issues.
A sense of crisis spurred the US government to seriously address this issue forty years ago. As our increasing population demands more and more of our finite water resources, we’ll see how quickly we return to that sense of crisis. Water is one of the few things we absolutely can’t live without and our water systems tie us together whether we like it or not. Learning the true value of water is a painful lesson so we hope our experience over the last forty years of CWA issues won’t be forgotten as we enter the next forty years.
Photo of the Cuyahoga River Flats by Laszlo Ilyes used under a creative commons license.