EPA, Associations Celebrate Clean Water Act's 50th Anniversary

Officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gathered in Cleveland Oct. 18 to recognize the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Administrator Michael Regan and others discussed the progress made under the Clean Water Act and its amendments, transforming waters that were once polluted into boatable, fishable, and even swimmable treasures.

“The Clean Water Act has played a transformational role in protecting people’s health and safeguarding our natural resources for the enjoyment of future generations,” says Regan. “From establishing legal policy to driving technological innovation, the Clean Water Act has led to landmark standards, regulations and protections for waterways across this country. Combined with other key initiatives and historic resources flowing to EPA, the Clean Water Act will continue to reduce pollution, restore and protect precious waters throughout the United States.”

Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox calls it a monumental piece of legislation. “While we’ve made incredible progress, we need to continue to move forward, focusing the ‘North Star’ for the Clean Water Act towards ensuring every community has access to fishable, swimmable bodies of water.”

In the 1960s, the Cuyahoga River infamously caught fire more than a dozen times, prompting environmental action and advocacy that, in part, inspired the creation of the EPA and the eventual passage of the Clean Water Act. Under the Clean Water Act, EPA has worked with partners across the country to implement vital programs that have reduced pollution, made our water bodies safer and cleaner, and ensured businesses that rely on clean water can thrive. Since the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, waterways around the country have been transformed into national treasures and economic engines.

To commemorate the anniversary, President Joe Biden issued a Presidential Proclamation to reaffirm the nation’s commitment to safeguarding and restoring our waters and commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.  It calls upon communities across the country to observe this milestone and to recognize the significant contribution the Clean Water Act has made to restore our nation’s waters and to consider the crucial part clean water plays in each of our lives.

As leaders in drinking water, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies also applauds the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Clean Water Act. One of the first modern laws to specifically address environmental water quality, the Clean Water Act helped pave the way for subsequent federal laws, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“Preventing pollutants from entering drinking water supply source water is a complex task involving point and nonpoint sources,” says AMWA CEO Tom Dobbins. “The Clean Water Act recognizes that it is much more effective to control point source pollutants at the source, where they are highly concentrated, than it is to remove them at the consumer’s expense after they have entered a water supply source.”

In recognition of the law’s golden anniversary, AMWA participated in EPA’s celebration of the law during the event along the banks of the Cuyahoga River.

Looking ahead to the next 50 years, AMWA urges the EPA to continue to use its authorities under the Clean Water Act to fully manage point and nonpoint source pollution. “Through requirements such as the total naximum daily loads, National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System programs, and Nonpoint Source and CWA 319 Programs, the Clean Water Act will continue to be a valuable tool for keeping drinking water affordable for all Americans,” Dobbins says. “We look forward to EPA building on this legacy by utilizing the law to improve water quality by keeping harmful chemicals and other pollutants out.”

In related news, leading members of the National Association of Clean Water Agencies attended a national news conference on the 50th anniversary to celebrate local victories and innovations while urging lawmakers to address the $1 trillion federal funding gap to fix the nation’s aging infrastructure amidst climate change.

Public water utility CEOs from Chicago, Washington D.C. and Seattle drew attention to the impact of 10 major rain and flood events in 2022 and examined how the aggregate effect of climate change and fresh operational challenges in the water sector are exposing a federal funding gap for modernization of clean water infrastructure. Despite industry-wide accolades for Biden’s $55 billion commitment to clean water laid out in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, NACWA says the nation faces a water infrastructure funding gap of nearly $1 trillion over the next two decades.


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