From Igniting the Environmental Movement to Restoring the Great Lakes

By Peter Cassell

On June 22, 1969, oil and debris in Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. It wasn’t the first time this happened but it was an image that stuck with Americans, an image that helped us focus on threats to the environment. The formation of the Environmental Protection Agency the following year blazed a path for environmental legislation such as the Clean Water Act in 1972 and an environmental movement that is still going strong.

A few weeks ago, I helped represent EPA alongside the Canadian government, other federal agencies, non-profits, academic institutions, and businesses at Great Lakes Week 2012 in Cleveland. There were field trips, tours, and seminars about more than 700 projects going on around the basin to restore the Lakes, many funded by the President’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

Attendees also recognized the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. It helped me appreciate that waters I use today were once so polluted I wouldn’t have been able to use them then. I wouldn’t be able to squeeze in trips to the beach, kayak, or fish in my spare time if these areas weren’t cleaned up.

When I moved to Chicago two years ago I fell in love with the Great Lakes and became one of 30 million Americans around the basin who depends on the Lakes in my everyday life. Thankfully, after 40 years of the Clean Water Act, 40 years of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and three years of the GLRI, I can love the Great Lakes up close, not from afar.

Do you have a favorite memory from enjoying this beach season? Feel free to share it with me along with your thoughts on Great Lakes issues in the comment section.

To find out more about our Great Lakes restoration efforts, visit or follow us on Twitter (@EPAGreatLakes) or Facebook.  You can also watch clips from Great Lakes Week 2012.

About the author: Peter Cassell is a Press Officer in EPA’s Chicago office who focuses on water issues, the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.