Clean Water Act Under Siege As The Popular Law Turns 40

Thursday, October 18, 2012
Despite major cleanups of the nation's rivers and lakes and improvements in the safety of drinking water for most Americans under the 1972 Clean Water Act, the landmark law is under unprecedented attack in Congress, according to a report released today by Appalachian Voices. The report highlights examples from around the South in which Clean Water Act programs are helping communities restore water quality in local streams, and analyzes the voting record of the southern congressional delegation on recent anti-environmental bills.
Appalachian Voices is releasing the report, The Clean Water Act at 40: Real People, Real Successes, Real Threats, to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act today. The organization is co-hosting a birthday party on Capitol Hill in conjunction with Clean Water Network and others. Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia, a champion of clean water, will be on hand to cut the birthday cake, and the "Cap2Cap" canoe team, which is paddling from Ottawa to D.C. to draw attention to the importance of waterways, will make a special appearance. The event is from 4-6 p.m. in Room 2253 of the Rayburn House Office Building (more info here). View a 2-minute video of Southerners celebrating the Clean Water Act.

When the Clean Water Act passed on October 18, 1972, all but one of 65 representatives from the southeastern states voted to support it.  But in the last two years, the region's representatives have voted more often than not in favor of weakening clean water laws, as tallied in the report.

"Forty years ago, Congress made clean water a national priority, a commitment that has yielded real improvements in the health of our waters and positive results for people who have benefitted from this environmental law that sets us apart from much of the world," said Sandra Diaz coordinator of the Red, White & Water Program with Appalachian Voices.

Highlighting place-based success stories from eight southeastern states - from an oyster farm on the Chesapeake Bay, to dairy farms in the Carolinas, to a watershed polluted by coal mining in Appalachia - the report puts a human face on the role the law plays in improving the lives of Americans who rely on clean water for their livelihoods, health and well-being.

"The Clean Water Act is creating jobs and economic benefits, restoring impaired fisheries, and cleaning up famed whitewater tourism destinations," Ms. Diaz said. "People become very upset when they realize that Congress is attempting to weaken the Clean Water Act so industry can go back to using our waterways as industrial sewers. Americans have a right to know their water is safe and clean."

The report details the 112th Congress' assault on clean water laws, focusing on the southern delegations. No part of the country has seen a greater erosion of support for clean water protections over the past 40 years than the Southeast, according to Appalachian Voices. In the last two years, representatives of southeastern states have voted in favor of weakening clean water laws 75 percent of the time.

"We urge our elected leaders to uphold the strong bipartisan commitment the nation made four decades ago to restore and maintain the integrity of its waters," said Ms. Diaz.

Some of the successes of the Clean Water Act over the past 40 years include:
  • The number of Americans receiving clean drinking water has increased from 79 percent in 1993 to 92 percent in 2007;
  • More than 2,000 water bodies identified as impaired in 2002 now meet water quality standards;
  • 60 percent more Americans were served by publicly-owned wastewater treatment facilities from 1968 to 2008.
A Summary of Success Stories from the South:

Alabama: Hal Lee and other farmers in Morgan County received education and funding through the Clean Water Act to reduce agricultural runoff along a 28-mile segment of the Flint River, leading to its removal from the national list of impaired waters.

Georgia: Water quality monitoring support from the Clean Water Act led to the creation of a series of stormwater retention ponds and constructed wetlands in the city of Griffin that prevent flooding, improve water quality and provide wildlife habitat.

Kentucky: Poor agricultural practices and failing septic tanks in Clark County threatened Strodes Creek until John Jones and other local citizens received new septic tanks and funding support through the Clean Water Act's nonpoint source pollution program.

North Carolina: Iredell County residents and horse owners Bob and Jill Kinser received funding through the Clean Water Act to build fencing, horse trails and waste composters to prevent runoff and manure from entering nearby Fourth Creek.

South Carolina: When the Stevens Creek watershed was found to be polluted by poor agricultural practices, Edgefield County resident Watson Dorn and other local farmers secured Clean Water Act funding to build fencing to prevent livestock from entering streams and to create alternative watering systems leading to improved water quality downstream.

Tennessee: Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel in Erwin relies on clean water to attract tourists to the famed rapids of the Nolichucky River. Due to poor agricultural practices upstream, portions of the river were listed as impaired. With funding from the Clean Water Act, farms along the Nolichucky were able to prevent runoff from entering the creek, improving water quality and benefiting downstream businesses and communities.

Virginia: Upstream pollution from the city of Virginia Beach has threatened the Lynnhaven River and the livelihood of fishermen, such as Hal Chalmers, who work there. With the help of Clean Water Act funding, more than 1,450 acres of the Lynnhaven River now meet water quality standards, the most since 1931.

West Virginia: Acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines and poorly reclaimed surface mines poisoned the oncevibrant Morris Creek in Kanawha County. Projects funded through the Clean Water Act helped local agencies to construct limestone channels that absorb toxic heavy metals from acid mine drainage.

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