Overview of the Clean Water Act
Fifty years ago, Congress held a series of votes on a piece of legislation called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments. On October 18, 1972, this legislation was enacted into law and came to be known as the Clean Water Act, which forever changed the course of water law and regulation in the US.
Hear from a generation of water sector leaders that have used the Clean Water Act as the foundation to ensure clean, safe water for their communities.
But where were these leaders in 1972?
Prior to the Clean Water Act, rampant population growth, industrialization, and a lack of enforcement fueled the unregulated discharge of pollutants into our nation's waterways. The Clean Water Act mandated, for the first time, wastewater treatment standards for every community in the country. It paired that mandate with a new funding program recognizing that meeting the new standards would be expensive, which resulted in an increase of water infrastructure in many parts of the country.
What was the impact of the Clean Water Act in some of our nation's most affected communities?
The Clean Water Act was not achieved overnight. It took tireless advocacy from some pivotal leaders, including Carl Stokes, the first Black mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, and of a major US city.
Learn the role former Mayor Carl Stokes played in the creation of the Clean Water Act.
The Clean Water Act set more than 100 different benchmarks and goals with aggressive timelines, and though these timelines weren’t all met, the Act was crucial in curtailing point source pollution into our nation’s waters. The Act allowed us to achieve significantly higher water quality standards; its impacts have spread far and wide across the country in more ways than just preventing rivers from catching fire.
What does the Clean Water Act mean to water leaders and to their communities?
The Clean Water Act has paved a remarkable path forward, but there is still much work to do. We now recognize that factors like climate change and racial equity and justice are inseparable from sustainable water management, and we must use these principles of One Water to guide us onwards.
What should happen in the next 50 years to ensure an equitable and sustainable water future for all?
To access the full Clean Water Act 50th Anniversary video series, click here.