Celebrate Clean Water: How a Pillow Saved the Clean Water Act


Do you ever dream about your work? Hopefully not, but as this story, the second in our series celebrating the Clean Water Act, by American Rivers’ Senior Director for Development Robbin Marks shows, sometimes it’s important to get a good nights rest before important (clean water) decisions:

I started working on clean water issues just about the time of the 20th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Years later I had the opportunity to help beat back attempts to dismantle it embodied in the – “Dirty Water Act.”  A few of us gave Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) a pillow the night before the vote on the Dirty Water bill to remind him of his public pledge that his position on the bill would need to be one that would make him feel comfortable sleeping at night.  When he came into the committee room waving the pillow, we knew he was going to vote against the bill and lead his fellow Republicans to oppose it as well.  The bill passed the House of Representatives in the post Contract for America sweep, but with too few votes to override a veto. President Clinton vowed to veto it and it never saw the light of day in the Senate under the leadership of Senator John Chafee (R-RI). 

It’s sad to say that the issues that I worked on back then – polluted runoff, including runoff from agriculture and factory farms still plague our waterways.  With the help of many farmers and activists, I pulled together the first-ever national analysis of factory farm pollution and the failure of local, state, and national laws to control it in America’s Animal Factories: How States Fail to Prevent Pollution from Livestock Waste (by the Clean Water Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council) in 1998.  This report and much other work helped provide the impetus for some national controls and some stronger state programs, but still much more needs to be done at both levels to reduce farm factory pollution under the Clean Water Act. 

I am now proud to be a part of the effort of American Rivers to defend the Clean Water Act and reaffirm that all waterways and wetlands are protected. But the Act still needs to be strengthened to cover all types of water pollution.  I hope that on the 40th anniversary we can finally say that the Act fully protects all waters of the U.S.