The Clean Water Act at 46

One of the fundamental goals of the Clean Water Act (CWA), passed on this day in 1972, was that all waters would be swimmable by 1983. A sister goal was to eliminate all pollutants being dumped into our nation’s waters by 1985.

When I tell people about those specific goals, I am met most often with laughter, shock, disgust, frustration or sadness. “How discouraging that we have not met the goal some 35 years past that deadine!” However, there is another reaction. On occasion, I will meet someone who is inspired and motivated by that laudable bipartisan intention that Congress established.

It is that last reaction that motivates me every day. If Congress could set such “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” as they did in the writing of the Clean Water Act, the least we can do is keep working toward it!

Diving In to Protect Urban Rivers

In fact, many urban rivers are experiencing a rebirth through investment in vibrant waterfront revitalization, and that investment is delivering healthy returns as illustrated in Chicago, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. We also see an emergence of grassroots campaigns focused on getting people into the water as a way to celebrate successful water quality improvements and to galvanize public demand for more. Inspirational examples of this local organizing include the Charles River in Boston and Cambridge, the Potomac River in Washington, DC, the Delaware River in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ, the Chicago River  and the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon.

It is on this day every year that I reaffirm my commitment to the goals of the Act. I would like to invite you to join me in this commitment. Let’s keep our eyes on the prize, collaborate with each other, celebrate success and stay motivated. Our rivers and streams and the communities – human, aquatic and terrestrial – that depend on them, are depending on us.

Save the date for River Network’s River Rally  in Cleveland, Ohio on June 21-24, 2019. We will mark the 50th anniversary of the last time the Cuyahoga River burned – a key event that pushed Congress to pass the Clean Water Act! River Rally will feature Clean Water Act news and developments as well as trainings for the novice and the experienced advocates of our rivers.  If you wish to present your story of river advocacy, it’s not too late! Workshop proposals will be accepted through October 31.