Outdoors blog

TUESDAY, OCT. 30, 2012, 6:15 A.M.

Why is the Clean Water Act only 40 years old?

ENVIRONMENT -- I was in high school when the rivers were catching fire in Cleveland.

The  Clean Water Act, a series of amendments to a limp 1948 law, was approved by Congress 40 years ago and put into action by the Environmental Protection Agency. It helped put an end to such gross treatment of water resources, or at least make it illegal, and revive or protect fishing in many waters.

Environmentalists get a bad rap.  But in cases such as water pollution, the only regrets are that they weren't able to get the country's attention much sooner.

Read on for more benefits from a law that helps protect our most basic source of life.


The Clean Water Act was put into effect by  the Environmental Protection Agency in 1972 to regulate pollutants discharged in U.S. waterways and set water quality standards for all surface waters.

Speaking at a national press conference in Washington D.C. in May 2012 to celebrate the anniversary and achievements, Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the United States conference of mayors said, “our lakes and rivers have improved tremendously since the 1960s. It seems like only yesterday when Randy Newman wrote that song about the river that was burning in Cleveland. Today, our rivers are no longer burning. Today we have commercial fisheries on our rivers and they are on the rise. And there’s still much to be done to protect our water resources.”


According to the EPA, the 1972 amendments,

  • Established the basic structure for regulating pollutants discharges into the waters of the United States.
  • Gave EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry.
  • Maintained existing requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters.
  • Made it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained under its provisions.
  • Funded the construction of sewage treatment plants under the construction grants program.
  • Recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by nonpoint source pollution.

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Outdoors blog

Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column.