The Clean Water Act Through the Generations: Baby Boomers Generation
How has the Clean Water Act impacted your life? For those of us who were born before the Clean Water Act was passed into law in 1972, we interpret this law through the eyes of the Baby Boomers Generation.
The River Charles, as we called it, is a long, lazy river that flows through 22 towns in Massachusetts before it reaches Boston Harbor. As sewage, industrial wastewater and urban runoff flowed freely into the river from the surrounding cities, the Charles River became well known for its high level of pollutants, so that by 1955, Bernard DeVoto wrote in Harper’s Magazine that the Charles was “foul and noisome, polluted by offal and industrious wastes, scummy with oil, unlikely to be mistaken for water.” In those days, it was not an uncommon sight to see toxins coloring the river pink and orange in spots, fish kills and submerged cars.
By 1976, the River Charles was somewhat improved as it flowed by my high school in Dedham right below the sports fields. However, if one of the crew team members fell by accident into the water, they were still rushed off to the hospital to get a tetanus shot. The next day, the rest of the student body whispered about the poor swimmer and kept their distance.
In 1995, under direction of the Clean Water Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency declared a goal of making the river swimmable by 2005. In 1996, Governor William Weld plunged, fully clothed, into the river to prove his commitment to cleaning up the river, and in July 2007, the river hosted the Charles River Masters Swim Race, the first sanctioned race in the Charles in over five decades – none of the swimmers needed a tetanus shot! With the improved water quality, swimming and fishing are progressively re-emerging as about 90% of the length of the river is now considered safe for swimming.