When tragedy leads to regulation: The birth of the clean water act
The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of the US, better known as the Clean Water Act, was first introduced in 1948– the same year that individuals became aware of the toxicity of pollution. With 20 deaths in the town of Donora, Pennsylvania due to air pollution, people suddenly understood the horrific effect that pollution could cause. 60 years later, The New York Times described The Donora Smog as, “one of the worst air pollution disasters in the nation’s history.” Instead of continuing to ignore the pollution that had emerged during the Industrial Era, people acted on it. Thus, the Clean Air Act was born. Subsequently, the Clean Water Act also emerged victorious.
The Development of the Clean Water Act
24 years later, the Clean Water Act had a total revamp when the EPA created more structure for regulation. This included how to regulate pollutant discharges, creating control programs for waste water, and implementing regulations of having backflow devices tested annually.
In 1990, the United States and Canada joined hands to insure that fewer pollutants were entering into their shared seas: The Great Lakes. Although Lake Erie specifically had benefited from the earlier amendments to the Clean Water Act, with a sharp decline in phosphorus contamination, the EPA further regulated the pollutants entering the lakes. The amount of phosphorous coming into Lake Erie was halved from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. The overall health of the Great Lakes has flourished with the introduction of the Great Lakes Crtitical Programs Act of 1990.
The future of the Clean Water Act
What does tomorrow bring for the Clean Water Act? With a distinct move towards water preservation in the United States, it becomes even more important to maintain that the water that is used is free of pollution. With focus on maintaining clean rivers and water sources, the reality is there is still major pollutants in run-off from intensive land uses: both agriculture and urban uses. Developing ways to combat this run-off is key to helping create sustainable, clean water for future generations. It also relies on us to ensure the water we pour down the drain meets guidelines–polluting our land will only pollute our rivers and streams.
The house of representatives has voted 38 times since January 2011 to roll-back provisions of the Clean Water Act. If you’d like to contact your state’s representatives to make sure the Clean Water Act maintains it’s key elements, the US government lists them by state here.
As we continue working towards clean water, remember how hard people have worked to establish and maintain it. What does the clean water act mean to you?