" " " " " " " 17 SEPTEMBER 2022 WorldWide Drilling Resource® The Clean Water Act: 50 Years of Environmental Legislation Adapted from Information by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Colorado Boulder In 1969, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River caught fire. Industrial plants with permits to discharge pollutants into rivers did not have to disclose what they were releasing into waterways. Two-thirds of lakes, rivers, and coasts were considered unsafe for fishing or swimming. Catastrophic events such as the Cuyahoga River fire led to growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution in the U.S. Against this backdrop, Congress proposed a transformative set of amendments to the first and only major law existing to address water pollution - the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948. Passed with a bipartisan majority over President Nixon’s veto, the legislation became law in October 1972 as the Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA followed establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1970. It preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973, making it part of a period of landmark environmental protections enacted throughout this decade. The monumental piece of environmental legislation turns 50 this year. Although challenges remain, its sweeping changes led to many significant improvements in water quality across the country. The CWA is primarily concerned with regulating pollution discharges into waterways. The federal government sets national standards, and states have an opportunity to implement and enforce those standards within their borders through a program delegated to them by the EPA. Essentially, anyone proposing to discharge anything into waterways typically has to receive a permit. “As the CWA turns 50, we see what work for water justice can accomplish and how local advocates can champion projects that take on national significance,” said Bethany Wiggin, founding director of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities. “Today, a new generation of projects . . . help us to recognize how to celebrate and restore our waters. This work for water justice is only more timely amidst accelerating climate change” WTR Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was considered one of the nation’s most polluted rivers and caught fire a number of times. Images courtesy of the University of Pennsylvania.