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Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary

March 14 2012 | Water Quality,
by Mara Dias

 The Clean Water Act (CWA) was signed into law 40 years ago in response to massive water pollution problems in this country.  The goal of this landmark legislation is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of our nation’s waters.  The CWA controls discharges of pollutants into federal waters and established national water quality standards.

As beach-goers, surfers and water sport enthusiasts, the Surfrider Foundation relies on the Clean Water Act to make sure that our waters remain clean for drinking, swimming, fishing and of course, surfing. 

A short list of the protections afforded by the CWA includes:

  • Recreational water quality standards used to open and close beaches and issue swimming advisories to protect public health
  • Permit and monitoring requirements for discharges from point sources such as factories and sewage treatment plants
  • Permit requirements for non-point sources including stormwater management plans and implementation of low impact development and other best management practices, and
  • Regulation of Army Corps of Engineers projects that dredge or fill protected waterways or wetlands

The CWA has accomplished much in the last 40 years, particularly in addressing point-source pollution, but there is still more work to be done. 

  • Nearly half of all rivers, lakes and streams are still not swimmable and fishable, largely because of non-point source pollutants. 
  • Our beaches continue to be impacted by stormwater and other sources of pollutants.  There were over 24,000 beach closure and advisory days in 2010. 
  • Antiquated and failing water infrastructure wastes freshwater and dumps untreated sewage into our waters.  We lose 6 billion gallons of drinkable water per day through leaky pipes, and 3.5 million people become sick each year from contact with raw sewage from sewage overflows! 
  • New contaminants of concern, such as pharmaceuticals, are severely degrading drinking water supplies and aquatic ecosystem health.  Forty-six million Americans drink water containing detectable amounts of pharmaceuticals.

Unfortunately, rather than working together to improve the condition of our waterways, this current session of Congress has seen many attacks being made on clean water.   Agencies are being defunded and several pieces of legislation have been introduced to limit the scope and enforcement teeth of the Clean Water Act.

The Surfrider Foundation is joining other non-government organizations and clean water agencies to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the CWA by educating our members, the public and our representatives in Washington, D. C. on the importance of protecting our water resources.   Clean water is essential for public health, recreation and a strong economy.  You can’t have a robust and sustainable economy without clean water to drink and play in. Access to clean and safe water is not a privilege, but a right, for people everywhere. 

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