The Clean Water Act: Preserving the Past and Improving the Future


This is a guest blog from one of our conservation interns Ryan Cook


Gulf Branch stream, Arlington, VA

Gulf Branch stream, Arlington, VA | Ryan Cook

When you’re growing up everything seems bigger.  In elementary school I played in the Gulf Branch stream in Arlington, overlooking the Potomac River.  My younger self treated the largest pool as a veritable lagoon, a place where I could splash, swim, dive, and dam for as long as I wished, or oftentimes as long as my parents would let me.  At the edge of the pool is a steep drop that grants a panoramic view of the Potomac and District of Columbia. 

I used to lean against the edge of that pool and imagine the adventures I could have playing in the Potomac, the size of the great river shrinking my “lagoon” to a mere puddle in my mind.  However, as a kid it was drilled into me that the Potomac was unsanitary, unsafe, and most importantly, unapproachable.  I saw the Potomac as a problem too big to tackle.

Today the stream remains largely unchanged.  I still enjoy going to the Gulf Branch on a hot summer day, but it’s for a soak instead of a swim.  I can no longer see it as the outdoor waterpark that my younger self did, but instead see a symbol of hope for America’s waterways. 

The Clean Water Act was instrumental in keeping the water of the Gulf Branch, and countless streams nationwide, clean enough for children to play in.  With another 40 years of the Clean Water Act, future generations could very well lean against the edge of the same pool that I did and ponder the Potomac. 

Instead of recalling their parent’s warnings about entering the river, however, I hope they’re remembering all the fun times they’ve had in our nation’s river.   I still see the restoration of the Potomac as a huge undertaking, but it’s something that I now look forward to tackling.