Since the Clean Water Act was enacted 50 years ago, the water quality and health of our rivers, lakes, streams, and waterways have vastly improved. No longer are our rivers on fire or our waterways completely inundated with industrial pollution; instead, many communities now have access to clean water for drinking, swimming, and fishing. Today, on the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we celebrate the law’s many successes and look forward to a future where clean water becomes a reality for all communities, regardless of race, wealth, or zip code.
While water pollution has decreased substantially since the act’s passage in 1972, there is still much more to be done to ensure equitable access to clean, safe, and affordable water for all. Too many communities suffer from inadequate and unequal water infrastructure investment, especially low-income communities and communities of color. Just last month, residents of Jackson, Mississippi suffered when torrential rains overwhelmed the city’s inadequate and dilapidated water system, preventing over 160,000 residents from accessing safe drinking water. The ongoing disaster in Jackson, which is home to an 83% Black population, parallels other water crises that have disproportionately impacted communities of color around the country, like those caused by PFAS, arsenic, and other dangerous heavy metals and chemicals, agricultural and nutrient runoff, and an overall lack of enforcement of the law.
Beyond these inequities in clean water access, for decades the Clean Water Act has faced constant efforts from polluters and their polluter allies to gut its critical protections. Most recently, on October 3, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments for Sackett vs. EPA, a case with potentially detrimental implications for the health and protections of our nation’s wetlands, streams, and other waters. As a vital part of our water systems, wetlands naturally prevent or reduce flooding during catastrophic weather events and also trap and filter pollutants that would otherwise be carried into downstream waters used for drinking and recreating. This radical Supreme Court is poised to undo the long-established framework of safeguards for our waterways established by the Clean Water Act, jeopardizing the health of our families and communities in order to benefit the pocketbooks of industry polluters.
In light of the threats to our clean water and in honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, LCV asked members of Congress to answer questions about the importance of the Clean Water Act, what it has achieved in the past 50 years, and what still needs to be done in the next 50 to make access to clean, safe, and affordable water a true reality for all.
Read their answers to our questions below:
1). Today is the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Why has this law been so important to your state/district?
Every single day, I hear concerns from my constituents about clean water. Here in Michigan, we know far too well the importance of access to clean water – how many still don’t have it, from Flint to Dearborn to Benton Harbor, and how fiercely we must protect it. https://t.co/Kpnd33pbJi
— Rep. Debbie Dingell (@RepDebDingell) October 18, 2022
“Before the Clean Water Act, wastewater discharges to Delaware’s surface waters were largely unregulated. In the last 50 years, this landmark law has helped protect our state’s waterways and wetlands, while also supporting our economy.” – Sen. Tom Carper
“Our Capital Region waterways are our greatest natural gift, so long as we protect them. The Clean Water Act plays a pivotal role in protecting our public and environmental health, bolstering local economies, and strengthening our communities.” – Rep. Paul Tonko
“The Clean Water Act funded the clean-up of many iconic waterways, including the Chicago River, which runs through the district I represent. The River is now the cleanest it’s been in 150 years, and cleaner water helps protect communities like mine that live and play near it.” – Rep. Chuy García
“Happy 50th anniversary to the Clean Water Act! For 50 years, the Clean Water Act has protected iconic, endangered species like orcas & salmon & provided clean drinking water sources in the Pacific Northwest.” – Rep. Rick Larsen
“For the last 50 years, not only has the Clean Water Act ensured that Central Coast residents have access to safe, unpolluted drinking water, it has also kept our beaches and other recreational water safe from dangerous viruses that could affect our health.” – Rep. Salud Carbajal
“For 50 years, the #CleanWaterAct has ensured access to safe drinking water & protected our waterways — like the LA River in #CA34. I’m proud to commemorate this historic law w/ 88 @HouseDemocrats. We must continue to safeguard our waters for future generations.” – Rep. Jimmy Gomez
2). This month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case that might jeopardize the future of the Clean Water Act. Why should the public care about this case?
This #SCOTUS case has huge implications for our nation's waters. If the plaintiffs are successful, polluters would once again be allowed to discharge their wastes into upstream waters and fill wetlands. https://t.co/PpfbcxV9Lt
— Senator Tom Carper (@SenatorCarper) October 18, 2022
“The Clean Water Act has served as our most crucial tool for protecting our water systems for 50 years. Wetlands are a key part of the water systems our communities rely on, & their legal protection under the CWA has been affirmed and reaffirmed by courts for decades.” – Rep. Debbie Dingell
“Sackett v. EPA is a Supreme Court case that could change how the government decides which waterways and wetlands are protected by the Clean Water Act.” – Rep. Chuy García
“On its 50th anniversary, the Clean Water Act is still our most fundamental tool for protecting our nation’s waterways. The ability of current and future generations to access clean water depends on the future success of the Clean Water Act.” – Rep. Paul Tonko
“Having access to clean drinking water is a fundamental right for all Americans. However, if the Clean Water Act is under attack, it may result in polluters to run amok in our rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands and reducing the supply of clean drinking water.” – Rep. Salud Carbajal
3). How would losing federal safeguards for wetlands, streams, and other waters affect your constituents and your state/district?
In the Hudson Valley, 9,000 acres will be impacted by sea-level rise this century. The Clean Water Act and my NY-NJ Watershed Protection Act are critical for ensuring the health and resilience of our waterways, reducing flood risks & filtering pollutants.https://t.co/HNueYlXMA6 https://t.co/ZGJiuXzNH6
— Paul Tonko (@RepPaulTonko) October 18, 2022
“Losing federal safeguards for wetlands, streams, and other waters could severely impact clean water access in Delaware. This could threaten habitats, wildlife, vulnerable communities, and public water supplies in the First State.” – Sen. Tom Carper
“Bubbly Creek comes to mind, which was a dumping ground for Chicago’s meatpacking industry. Though it’s cleaner now, the river still bubbles—and has been polluted by heavy metals, raw sewage, and an oil spill.” – Rep. Chuy García
“Without safeguards and regulations from the Clean Water Act, Central Coast residents risk exposure to toxins & pollutants in our Central Coast both our drinking water and our beaches that provide recreation for so many.” – Rep. Salud Carbajal
“We have many industrial sites that pose environmental hazards – Gelman Sciences’ plume, Tribar Technologies, BASF, the Arkema & McLouth sites to name a few. I have long fought to protect our communities from these environmental threats – a fight that requires federal protections.” – Rep. Debbie Dingell
“From the San Juan Islands to Snohomish County, a healthy environment is vital to Washingtonians’ way of life & the regional economy. Safeguards like the CWA ensure the vitality of WA wetlands, streams & other waters for the use & enjoyment of current & future generations. #CWA50” – Rep. Rick Larsen
4). Despite the Clean Water Act’s success, too many communities still face water challenges, especially low-income and communities of color. What do you hope to see the Clean Water Act accomplish over the next 50 years?
“Clean water is a human right. The Clean Water Act can help ensure that all Americans can access clean drinking water and our treasured lakes & rivers. My NY-NJ Watershed Protection Act will help by delivering funds to frontline communities suffering from environmental injustice.” – Rep. Paul Tonko
“We need to do more, not less, to deliver on the promise of clean water in our nation. I’d like to see greater progress when it comes to improving clean water access for our most disadvantaged communities and making our infrastructure more resilient to climate change.” – Sen. Tom Carper
“There is still work to be done in protecting our waters in the next 50 years. Thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law & its historic investment in water, we will continue clearing pollution, replacing lead pipes across the country, & building more resilient infrastructure.” – Rep. Salud Carbajal
“Congress must stay focused on improving equity by investing in: Efforts to clean up contaminated drinking water in underserved & disadvantaged communities; Repairing water systems after natural disasters; Monitoring, testing & replacing lead in school water fountains” – Rep. Rick Larsen
“Too many people around our country are still without safe and clean drinking water, so we must strengthen the Clean Water Act for the next generation. We must expand access to clean water for every community—especially for our frontline communities—” – Rep. Debbie Dingell
5). How can the rest of us get involved in the fight for clean, safe, and affordable water for all?
There are lots of ways to get involved!
👉 Register to vote
👉 Attend your local council & planning commission meetings to make your voice heard
👉 Write to your legislators! https://t.co/w8wpUerkLh
— Rep. Salud Carbajal (@RepCarbajal) October 18, 2022
“I encourage everyone to do their part. Consider planting a rain garden at home to capture and cleanse rainwater before it reaches our local waterways. Or try one of these helpful tips from Delaware DNREC.” – Sen. Tom Carper
“Environmental justice is as much a matter of process as of policy. We need to amplify the voices of the most impacted communities and make sure those communities have a seat at the table when future decisions are made.” – Rep. Chuy García
“Continue to make noise and bring attention to these issues. Call your elected officials and make sure they’re working to hold the polluters in your area accountable. Clean and safe water is a fundamental human right that we can’t take for granted.” – Rep. Debbie Dingell
“Get involved! There are countless local & national organizations committed to protecting our waterways and lifting the stories and voices of those in our communities. We are all impacted by clean water. And we are all in this together!” – Rep. Paul Tonko
“Learn how the Clean Water Act benefits your community. Advocate for full funding of legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law that enables communities to reduce pollution, improve water quality, combat climate change & protect wildlife habitat for the next 50 yrs. #CWA50” – Rep. Rick Larsen