Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Search
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?

Backtrack
Planet Main
In This Section
  November/December 2002 Features:
Water Sentinels Go 'Knee-Deep'
A More Visible Battlefield
Jeffords Tops List of Club Award Winners
 
  Departments:
From the Editor
Alerts
Frontburner
Updates
ClubBeat
Victory
Who We Are
 
Search for an Article
Free Subscription
Back Issues

The Planet
Clean Water Act Turns Thirty

By Tom Valtin

The Clean Water Act, considered one of the most successful environmental laws in America, celebrated its 30th anniversary on October 18.

Thirty years ago, only 30 to 40 percent of the nation's rivers, lakes, and coastal waters were considered safe for swimming and fishing. Today, nearly 60 percent of our waters are estimated to be safe for these uses.

On June 22, 1969, a train passing over the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland kicked up sparks that fell into the polluted water below, setting the river ablaze. Flames soaring up to five stories high were captured on film and reported in the national media, prompting public outrage that led to the creation of the Clean Water Act three years later.

The law stopped industries and municipalities from discharging untreated wastes, provided generous financing for sewage treatment plants, and slowed the rapid loss of wetlands by limiting commercial and residential development. But the hardest work still remains. While the law has admirably controlled so-called end-of-pipe pollution, little progress has been made to control polluted runoff from farms, timber operations, city streets, even suburban lawns.

More than 75 percent of Americans still live within 10 miles of a polluted waterway. There were 11,000 days of beach closings due to pollution last year, polluters still routinely break the law, and 60,000 acres of wetlands are destroyed annually. The Bush administration has done little to broaden the reach of the Clean Water Act; in fact, it has moved to weaken it in fundamental ways, chiefly by narrowing its scope.

"After many years of progress, we've been losing momentum lately," said Sierra Club Conservation Director Bruce Hamilton. "Some waterways that had been cleaned up are getting dirtier again. The 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act should serve as a call for us to redouble our efforts to fulfill its goal of clean water for all Americans."

Find out more about the Clean Water Act.


Up to Top