Make Some Noise: the Clean Water Act Turns 40!

By Jon Capacasa

There are all sorts of noises being made in celebration of today’s 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.

Fire on Cuyahoga River Jun 29, 1969

Fire on Cuyahoga River Jun 29, 1969: The Cuyahoga River in Ohio becomes so polluted that it catches on fire. The fire helped spur an avalanche of water pollution control activities like the Clean Water Act by bringing national attention to water pollution issues.

Not the blaring type you typically hear on New Year’s Eve, but rather the noises associated with cleaner water – the squeals of young fishermen hauling in a fish from a local creek… the hum of a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant… the crunch of shovels clearing ground for rain gardens and streamside tree buffers… the clang of a cash register ringing up a marine sale… the buzz of a family picnicking along the river.

That’s music to the ears of those of us who remember when we faced health and environmental threats in our waters that are almost unimaginable by our standards today.

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has kept tens of billions of pounds of raw sewage, chemicals and trash out of our waterways, and we’ve doubled the number of waters that meet safety standards for swimming and fishing.

In my travels around the Mid-Atlantic Region, I’ve seen the impressive work we’ve done with watershed groups and many of our other partners to improve the quality of our waters. The number of folks engaged in cleanup efforts for their local waterway is at an all-time high.  And the results have been overwhelming.

Black Water Falls, West Virginia

Black Water Falls, West Virginia

Migratory fish can now travel the full length of the Delaware River due to major increases in oxygen levels.   A major interstate program is now place for restoring the Chesapeake Bay, including a landmark pollution budgetGreen infrastructure techniques are sprouting up in our major cities and small communities as a cost-effective way to control stormwater pollution and improve community livability.  And economic development along urban waterfronts has burgeoned, like the famous Baltimore Inner Harbor and along the Anacostia River in Washington D.C., driven by commitments to cleaner water.

In every corner of the region, we have initiatives underway to protect our most irreplaceable resource, producing environmental, economic, community and public health benefits.

We’ve come a long way.  But there’s much more to do.  And we need your help to continue the progress and take the next steps.

So what does clean water mean to you?  Let us know.

Author’s Note:  Jon Capacasa is director of the Water Protection Division in EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region.

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