Celebrate Clean Water: The Clean Water Act Turns 35

Later this week, the Clean Water Act will turn 35 years old! As part of the celebration, we decided to collect some clean water stories and to ask people to reflect on past accomplishments and future challenges facing clean water and the Clean Water Act. We’ve got some good ones, including how a pillow saved this landmark law and how a little known part of the law achieved great things for communities around the country.

For me, I knew pretty early on that I loved rivers and wanted to protect them. I can’t remember exactly when I learned about the Clean Water Act, but it couldn’t have been long after, because protecting rivers and clean water will always come back to the Clean Water Act one way or another. But I do remember the day the judge’s order was faxed to the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in 1995 where I was working saying that we had won our citizens suit under the Clean Water Act, and the City of Atlanta would have to clean up its old sewer system that spilled millions of gallons of sewage into the river each year. Current Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin is the self proclaimed “sewer mayor” as she’s tackled the City’s sewage problems, all initially prompted by enforcing the Clean Water Act!

Sadly, enforcement of this great law isn’t what it should be. U.S. PIRG’s new report Troubled Waters, shows that thousands of permitted facilities continue to exceed their Clean Water Act permits and a recent Washington Post article revealed that environmental enforcement has declined under the current administration. Moreover, the very heart of the law and which waters get protected is being debated and reaffirming the Clean Water Act’s original scope is critical for the future of clean water.

Growing old is never easy, but let’s wish the Clean Water Act many happy returns – clean water and healthy communities depend on it.