\When Congress overwhelmingly passed the landmark Clean Water Act in
1972, we set an incredibly ambitious goal: eliminate all water
pollution. Before the Act, rivers like the Cuyahoga caught fire, Lake
Erie was declared “dead”, untreated waste was routinely dumped in rivers
and streams and wetlands were thought to be useless swamps that needed
to be drained for development or agriculture. The Clean Water Act
changed all of that. Over the past forty years we have seen amazing
progress for our water.
The Act is visionary – it was a revolution in how we think about our
nation’s relationship with water resources after more than a century of
pollution and degradation – but it is also pragmatic
We realized that we needed “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”
t seeks to eliminate water pollution completely and to make all rivers, lakes and streams “fishable and swimmable”.
It includes a revolutionary “citizen provision” that empowers
concerned citizen to be effective “watchdogs” to protect the water
resources they use, especially when government fails to do so.
The Act established the basic structure for regulating the dumping
of pollutants into water and gave the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) authority to oversee pollution control programs.
We have made significant progress that would not have been possible without the Clean Water Act:
Nearly 2/3 of all rivers, lakes, and streams are now “swimmable and
fishable” – that’s twice as many as met those water quality standards
Wetland losses have fallen below 60,000 acres per year (in 1972 the country was losing 500,000 acres per year).
Discharges of organic wastes from publically-owned waste treatment
facilities have decreased by over 45% and decreased by 98% from
But we still have a long way to go. We have a responsibility to renew
our commitment to restore and protect our nation’s greatest natural
resource – water – for current and future generations.