Thursday, October 18, 2012

Happy 40th Anniversary Clean Water Act

By Joye Redfield-Wilder and Sandy Howard

Forty years ago, on Oct. 18, 1972, the U.S. Congress enacted the Clean Water Act designed to end pollution to the nation’s rivers, lakes and bays.

For the past several months, Northwest Public Radio’s EarthFix — a public media project with many regional public broadcasting partners — has been reporting on different aspects of the Act’s influences for series of reports called, “Clean Water: The Next Act.” Ecology staff worked with the reporters as they’ve profiled the monumental challenges of urban runoff to Puget Sound and the plight of the small communities, whose wastewater facilities are in decline and need of upgrades since being constructed some 30 years ago. You can follow EarthFix reports.

State agency formed to protect Washington's environment

In the late 1960s, the state of Washington already had several separate commissions looking at the burgeoning concerns associated with the environment and natural resources. They were the fisheries and parks departments, and the Water Pollution Control Commission and the Department of Water Resources that would become part of the Department of Ecology.

The Department of Ecology and the state’s environmental laws grew out of the foresight of Gov. Dan Evans, who in early 1970 called a special session of the Legislature to concentrate on environmental protection. Also key to the movement was the League of Women Voters and its president Joan Thomas, who in 1967 helped form the Washington Environmental Council, as told in Ecology’s oral history. In the late ’60s, she worked to help bring the then Democratic Senate into support for the Republican governor’s proposed environmental legislation, particularly the pieces that formed the Department of Ecology. Together these forces laid the foundation for Ecology and our work today.

State and federal laws guide our work

The federal Clean Water Act and state statutes have been a foundation for our work and there’s been much progress since the 1970s. This milestone reinforces our need to keep vigilant as we move into the Act’s fifth decade.

Today, we can pause and acknowledge strides we’ve made in curbing industrial sources of pollution, but we also look head-on at a big, current challenge to the health of our state’s waters – polluted runoff from the land.

The EarthFix reporters took a long look at stormwater in their Oct. 17 story, “How We Got Into Such A Mess With Stormwater.” The underwater time lapse video of the storm drain at end of this piece is worth watching.

Read more about the Clean Water Act anniversary on EPA’s website.

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