The Clean Water Act Through the Generations Blog Series


Michael Paul

Growing up in Georgia, my sister and I spent countless hours walking the banks of our little creek, crossing fallen logs, racing stick boats, and looking for buried treasure that we were sure lay beneath the sandbars. It didn’t matter to us that our creek was known officially on maps only as “an unnamed tributary to Peavine Creek,” because our creek was the world to us, especially on hot summer days when the shade along its banks was welcome refuge.

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA).  This landmark environmental law protects and maintains the integrity of our nation’s waterways, and was written with the foresight to protect small streams like mine right along with our most mighty rivers. The Clean Water Act is the foundation for protecting clean water across the country.

By the 1960s, Lake Erie had been pronounced “dead” due to high levels of algae that suffocated life in the lake. In 1965, the Potomac River was called a “national disgrace” by President Johnson and was so polluted that it was recommended you get a tetanus shot if you fell into the water. In thousands of smaller lakes, streams, and rivers, people began to notice their impact on local waters.

This summer, many of us will have spent a day at the beach or walked along a local river or skipped rocks into the neighborhood creek. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, huge strides have been made to clean up these waters to protect our health and the health of the environment. Although challenges remain to protecting our rivers, lakes, and streams, we’ve come a long way. Now that my daughter is playing in our backyard creek, fighting for the future of clean water seems all the more urgent.

Here at American Rivers, we’ve taken time to examine the importance of clean water to our staff and friends across the generations. In honor of the anniversary, we’re kicking off a blog series that explores our experience of the Act – whether we were born before the Clean Water Act or have never known a time without it!

Join the conversation! Describe how clean water is important to you.