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The Clean Water Act is 39 years old this month. We all have a lot to celebrate. Since its enactment in 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) has cleaned up many of our waterways. However, throughout the last decade, we have seen the U.S. Supreme Court narrow the jurisdiction of the CWA, federal administration issue guidance to further narrow the court’s ruling and state agencies dramatically cutting their clean water enforcement budgets. And now, the 112th Congress seems to be having its own midlife crisis by issuing a slate of reckless bills to render the CWA ineffective. Instead of trying to relive its youth, U.S. legislators have sided with polluters and lobbyists, and decided to take an irresponsible joyride at the expense of our right to swimmable, drinkable and fishable waters. Throughout the next year, leading up to the CWA’s 40th birthday, we need to show our elected officials that as a civil society we are not going to stand for their attempts to gut one of the most successful environmental laws in U.S. history. Congress needs a lesson from the 1971 S.E. Hinton novel, That Was Then, This Is Now. That Was Then: Even after the construction of a sewage treatment plant in 1947, the City of Bremerton, Washington, still discharged millions of gallons of raw sewage into Puget Sound. Its antiquated combined sewer system was overwhelmed during rain events, and overflowed hundreds of times every year contaminating the Sound and forcing closures of local shellfish beds. This Is Now: Using the CWA, Puget SoundkeeperAlliance recently completed an 18-year federal consent decree with the City of Bremerton. As a result of Puget Soundkeeper’s action, the city has reduced the volume of its combined sewer overflows by 99 percent, which directly led to the reopening of nearby commercial shellfish beds in Puget Sound. These shellfish beds, which had been closed for more than 40 years, are culturally and economically important to the Suquamish Tribe who now can harvest their ancestral fishing grounds once again. That Was Then: In the 1960s, the Hudson River was a national laughingstock due to raw sewage, oil from Penn Central Railroad and other industrial pollutants that turned the river into a toxic stew. This Is Now: After decades of CWA implementation and enforcement from groups like the Hudson Riverkeeper, the Hudson River has regained its status as a gem. Though the river still remains under threat, many of the industries and municipalities have stopped vomiting toxic chemicals into the river. Instead, residents and visitors flock to the river for recreation and celebrate its revitalization. That was then: Dams on the Yadkin River in North Carolina starved the river of oxygen for years, leading the river to a slow death. This is now: Using the CWA and showing evidence that Alcoa was withholding information about whether their dam upgrades would allow the river to meet water quality standards for dissolved oxygen, Yadkin Riverkeeper was able to block Alcoa’s certification renewal for a license to operate the dams for the next 50 years. That was then: In 1927, the Portland City Club described the Willamette River as “ugly and filthy” and construction workers refused to work on riverside projects because conditions were intolerable. The river continued to be one of our nation’s dirtiest, but fortunately national attention, in the late 60s and early 70s, enabled a significant leap forward in water quality. This is now: While continuing to face threats from stormwater runoff and combined sewer overflows, the river has seen significant improvements in water quality due to the CWA and groups like Willamette Riverkeeper. The river is now one of the most heavily used recreation rivers in the U.S. These are just a few examples of success stories thanks to the CWA and organizations working to promote clean water. However, water quality problems still remain. Stormwater continues to poison our waters, mountaintop removal coal mining is destroying waterways throughout the Appalachian region, and the oil and gas industry is wreaking havoc on our natural resources. Now is the time to strengthen the CWA, not gut it. Clean water creates jobs and reduces health care costs. We should be cleaning our waterways, not polluting them. It’s time for us stand up and fight for our right to clean water. Let Congress know you support the Clean Water Act. With your support, hopefully we won’t, like the main character Byron in Hinton’s young adult novel, find ourselves longing for a time when clean water was something we valued as a civil society.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
by Jordan Davidson
Taking action to stop the mercury from rising is a matter of life and death in the U.S., according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.
By Alisa Opar
For Chinook salmon, the urge to return home and spawn isn't just strong — it's imperative. And for the first time in more than 65 years, at least 23 fish that migrated as juveniles from California's San Joaquin River and into the Pacific Ocean have heeded that call and returned as adults during the annual spring run.
By Jessica Corbett
Dozens of students, parents, teachers and professionals joined a Friday protest organized by Extinction Rebellion that temporarily stalled morning rush-hour traffic in London's southeasten borough of Lewisham to push politicians to more boldly address dangerous air pollution across the city.
Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images
By Bridget Shirvell
On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.
By Jessica A. Knoblauch
Summers in the Midwest are great for outdoor activities like growing your garden or cooling off in one of the area's many lakes and streams. But some waters aren't as clean as they should be.
That's in part because coal companies have long buried toxic waste known as coal ash near many of the Midwest's iconic waterways, including Lake Michigan. Though coal ash dumps can leak harmful chemicals like arsenic and cadmium into nearby waters, regulators have done little to address these toxic sites. As a result, the Midwest is now littered with coal ash dumps, with Illinois containing the most leaking sites in the country.