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.