ocean waves at sunrise
Ocean waves rippling at Kavourotrypes Beach. Original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

The Clean Water Act and Clean Water Action Turn 50

Initiated in 1948 with the Federal Pollution Control Act and then officially passed as the Clean Water Act in 1972, this cornerstone piece of legislation turns 50 years old this year alongside Clean Water Action, the organization established to support the passage and follow-through of the Act.

Both Act and Action have been critical players in environmental protection for half a century. And while the Clean Water Act has been tested before, many are concerned that the Supreme Court may be about to significantly limit the Act’s protections, putting many of America’s wetlands and water sources back under threat.

What can you do to help? Let’s talk about it—starting at the beginning.

What is the Clean Water Act?

Critical for the environment, the Clean Water Act has been essential for the protection of water and wetlands throughout the United States. Specifically, the Act makes it illegal to directly discharge pollution into “navigable waters” without a permit. It also gives the Environmental Protection Agency the ability to implement and enforce policies, water standards, and to conduct urban planning that addresses sewage and waste pollution issues.

Since the passing of the Act, it’s estimated that billions of pounds of pollution have been kept out of U.S. waterways. Additionally, the number of waters that meet clean water goals has doubled, leading to improved drinking water and ecosystems throughout the country. Wildlife, public health, and recreation have all benefited significantly from these environmental protections.

Who is Clean Water Action?

Turning 50 in tandem with the Clean Water Act it helped to campaign back in the 1970s, Clean Water Action continues to focus on efforts aligned with the Act’s goals (and then some), including clean water, pollution reduction, clean energy, and pushing for greater clean water laws.

“Clean Water Action founder David Zwick’s relentless efforts and determination played a huge part in drafting and passing the complex piece of legislation known as the Clean Water Act of 1972. Through his brilliant vision and as a canvassing pioneer and organizer, David changed the way we engage our elected officials. And while studies confirm that the Clean Water Act has made a huge difference in cleaning up our waterways, 50 years later, the Clean Water Act and our water sources are still at risk. Developers, oil and gas interests and other polluters are still pushing to weaken the Clean Water Act, pressing for changes that would prevent us from restoring and protecting “the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.

As we celebrate the Act’s 50th anniversary, we are reminded that our work is far from done. Clean Water Action, a founding Nonprofit Partner of Earth Share, will continue our work to protect our nation’s water, the sources of drinking water for millions of people, and the health of people all across this nation.”

–Bob Wendelgass, President and CEO of Clean Water Action

The Supreme Court’s Review of the Clean Water Act

The case of an Idaho couple who wants to close in the wetlands on their property has been brought to the Supreme Court, contesting amendments to the bill passed in 1977 as a way to strengthen the EPA’s ability to protect waters and wetlands across the U.S. Specifically, it questions the use of the phrase “waters of the United States,” and how broadly or narrowly this should be used.

At its core, this case can be broken down like this: environmental rights vs. property rights.

You can listen to a live recording of the first day of arguments here.

The case will continue as the Supreme Court hears arguments from both sides, but it’s difficult to determine at this moment in time what the outcome will be.

What Can You Do If Protections for Wetlands are Undone? 

Keeping our local waters and wetlands clean is something we don’t have the power to do single-handedly. That’s why it’s critical that we continue to press our local and state representatives to implement protections for these critical resources. Write, call, protest, and VOTE. As mundane as it may feel after a critical environmental protection is stripped away, the truth is, these actions are more important than ever.

And don’t forget to support and donate to organizations across the country whose focus every day is protecting our waters and reducing pollution. EarthShare’s Network of more than 500 vetted environmental nonprofits is home to numerous local, state, and national nonprofits striving to protect America’s natural resources. Have questions about what local water protection orgs exist where you live? Reach out to us at [email protected] to learn more.

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