THE 40th ANNIVERSARY
Clean Water Act of the
The Clean Water Act is this nation’s promise to its citizens that clean water is a fundamental right to be guaranteed and protected by our governments. The story, however, begins
before the Clean Water Act was enacted on October 18, 1972.
1969: An oil spill desimates the coast of
Santa Barbara, California.
1969: Cleveland’s severly polluted
Cuyahoga River catches fire.
1970: The inaugural Earth Day brought
environmentalism to the mainstream.
Over a ten-day period in January 1969, a massive oil spill six miles off the
coast of Santa Barbara, California, washed as much as 100,000 barrels of
crude oil into the water and onto the broad, pristine beaches of Santa
Barbara County. Thousands of sea birds, dolphins, elephant seals, and sea
Five months later on June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River caught fire in
Cleveland, Ohio, imbedding horrific reports and images of out-of-control
pollution into America’s conscience. In actuality, the Cuyahoga’s burning
was a brief event, but it and the deadly California spill had a lasting impact,
fanning the flames of America’s emerging concern—commonly attributed
to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 (see page 17)—about the ravages
of industrial pollution on our nation’s wildlife and natural resources.
As a result, America’s disillusioned Viet Nam war protesters broadened the
focus of their dissent. In April 1970, “ 20 million Americans took to the
streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable
environment in massive coast-to-coast rallies. Thousands of colleges and
universities organized protests against the deterioration of the environment. Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories
and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss
of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared
common values.” ( http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement)
Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson’s Earth Day was born. The success of
Earth Day made conservation and environmental protection mainstream,
even patriotic. In July 1970, President Richard Nixon called for the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and on December
2nd of that year, the U.S. Senate confirmed William Ruckelshaus as its first
administrator. EPA’s mission is, simply, to protect human health and the
environment. To achieve its mission, EPA provides funding for some environmental protection measures and develops and enforces regulations
when Congress passes environmental legislation.