Friday, October 21, 2022

Clean Water Act turns 50

Lake Champlain continues to be impacted by non-regulated runoff. Explorer file photo.

Fifty years ago this week, federal lawmakers overrode a presidential veto to enact the Clean Water Act, a landmark law for the nation’s water quality.

The iconic image of the Cuyahoga River on fire in Ohio spurred congressional action and ushered in a half century of major river restorations across the nation. The goals outlined in the act included restoring the country’s water to a “fishable and swimmable” state.

The law imposed new permitting requirements on polluting industries and sewage treatment plants, but it failed to address diffuse pollution from storm and agricultural runoff, the largest source of pollution in many parts of the country. The standards adopted under the law in many places are now decades old or unable to address emerging problems.

As clean water advocates have celebrated the law’s achievements this year, they have also highlighted its shortcomings. As the Supreme Court considers what types of wetlands qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act, some New York environmentalists are happy the state’s wetlands rules were strengthened this year. The Adirondack Park’s wetlands have long been subject to more stringent review prior to development.

I attended the annual Lake George Salt Summit hosted by the Lake George Association last week, hearing from some members of the state’s Adirondack Road Salt Reduction Task Force. The members during a panel discussion did not indicate when they expected a final report to be released, but they did preview some of the group’s work. They also underscored what’s sure to be a major tool in combating road salt pollution: convince the public to slow down.

“We expect bare roads while it’s snowing,” Phill Sexton, a consultant who specializes in reducing salt use in winter road management, said of how the public’s expectations have exploded in recent decades.

“People need to slow down in winter conditions,” said Tracy Eldridge, Hamilton County superintendent of public works. The task force members said there would be educational campaigns targeted at different audiences, pilot projects across the park and new training programs for road crews.

In other anniversary news, today marks the end of my first year with the Adirondack Explorer. There’s certainly plenty more to do on this amazing beat. Let me know if you have any ideas.

Lake Champlain continues to be impacted by non-regulated runoff. Explorer file photo.

This first appeared in Zach’s weekly “Water Line” newsletter. Click here to sign up.

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Zachary Matson has been an environmental reporter for the Explorer since October 2021. He is focused on the many issues impacting water and the people, plants and wildlife that rely on it in the Adirondack Park. Zach worked at daily newspapers in Missouri, Arizona and New York for nearly a decade, most recently working as the education reporter for six years at the Daily Gazette in Schenectady.

4 Responses

  1. louis curth says:

    Congrats Zach on completing one year at the Explorer.

    The Clean Water Act of 1972 is an appropriate environmental marker to be noted for the good things it achieved as well as for its failures. If you are willing to dig deep enough, you’ll come away with with a story that touches the best and the worst of what humans are capable of.

    Perhaps your reporting could be a primer to teach today’s people who are concerned about the future of our world how to achieve needed solutions, much as was done by people all over America in the years following the first Earth Day in 1970.

  2. David Gibson says:

    I second Lou Curth’s comments. Including Congratulations to Zach Matson for his excellent, wide-ranging, well written environmental reporting over the past year. Keep up the good work, Zach. And we all need to help keep the Clean Water Act alive, relevant and effective in all manner of pollution prevention. Our 12-ft deep dug well reminds me daily that pollution prevention begins at home.

  3. Tony Goodwin says:

    The Clean Water Act was probably the best that could have been enacted at the time – especially when there needed to be sufficient Congressional agreement to override a Presidential veto. (Can anyone imagine such agreement today?)

    Separately, Congress did approve funding to assist municipalities in improved sewage treatment facilities. What wasn’t provided (I don’t believe) was any funding to assist polluting industries to come up with treatment plans for their waste. The Cuyahoga River is clean today, but mostly because all of the industries along the river are now out of business. Those products, however, are now likely produced somewhere else in the world. And not only did we offshore the jobs, we offshored the pollution as well, and it all ultimately ends up in the same ocean.

    The above problem was not one that I thought about at the time, so I can’t be too critical; but it is an example of how difficult it can be to deal with every aspect of the potential solutions for an environmental problem.

  4. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Fifty years ago this week, federal lawmakers overrode a presidential veto to enact the Clean Water Act, a landmark law for the nation’s water quality.”

    Vision! That’s what that was all about fifty years ago regards the “Clean Water Act.” Nothing good last forever which we should never lose sight of, and which we should never take for granted while we’re at it!

    Vision! We seem to be distancing ourselves from such as we trudge along in this backwards motion we seem to be moving in! I derive this conclusion by way of, at the very least, the direction our far-right Supreme Court is headed, namely their recent move to strip away the power of the EPA to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Coal and oil and gas is more important to them then, say….all other life on this planet!

    Vision! We just don’t have it in enough of us! And when you mix that with ignorance, and far-right quackery (not just here in these not so united states, but all over the world,) you just have to wonder – how much longer is it all going to last? When is it that we are going to be roused from our mean sleeps?

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