H2O History: The Clean Water Act

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On October 18, 1972, the United States Congress passed the Clean Water Act, also known as the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “In the midst of national concern about untreated sewage, industrial and toxic discharges, destruction of wetlands, and contaminated runoff, the principal law to protect the nation’s waters was passed.”

At the time, only one-third of waterways in the United States were deemed safe for fishing or swimming—the result of hundreds of years of industrial, agricultural and municipal pollution. The EPA says that the Clean Water Act “set a new national goal ‘to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,’ with interim goals that all waters be fishable and swimmable where possible.”

Specifically, the Clean Water Act made all discharges into the nation’s bodies of water without a permit illegal. It developed strict pollution controls, set important water quality targets, protected wetlands, helped maintain the cleanliness of groundwater and surface waters, and set up programs to manage and reduce water pollution from sewage and wastewater.

Today, the American Association for the Advancement of Science reports that the Clean Water Act has helped double the number of safe waterways, with two-thirds now deemed safe for fishing or swimming. But there’s still work to be done. Read about the work we’re planning for our Save the Water™ Research Laboratory and let us know what you think!

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