Celebrating the 49th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act: A Q&A with Congressional Water Champions

Oct 18, 2021

Saachi Kuwayama,

Clean water is a human right.  It is critical not only for our survival, but also for its cultural, recreational, and economic value.  In 1972, Congress passed one of the most comprehensive pieces of environmental legislation in the United States — the Clean Water Act — to ensure that our waters remain clean and safe.  Today, on its 49th anniversary, we celebrate the Clean Water Act’s many achievements and look forward to a future where every community, regardless of race or zip code, has access to clean, safe, and affordable water.

Before the Clean Water Act, our waterways were inundated with industrial pollution, sewage, and debris.  A lack of regulations allowed industries to destroy wetlands and dump their waste into our waterways with no consequences, resulting in incredible harm to humans and the environment.  In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in northeast Ohio, full of pollution from nearby industrial facilities, caught on fire, sparking public demand for action and bipartisan support in Congress for stronger water protections.  

The Clean Water Act was created to protect our waters and the wildlife that depend on them by regulating pollution and setting water quality standards.  Since its passage, pollution in U.S. waters has substantially decreased, in turn creating cleaner and safer environments for our communities.  

Despite the many successes of the Clean Water Act, we still have a long way to go to ensure that everyone has access to clean, safe, and affordable water.  Many communities, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, still lack access to clean water, which has negative impacts on their health and wellbeing.  These shortcomings stem from issues such as a lack of implementation and enforcement of the Clean Water Act, undermining of the law by polluter allies, and inequitable investments in our water infrastructure.  

In honor of the 49th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, LCV asked members of Congress to answer questions about what the Clean Water Act means to them and what we still need to do to make access to clean, safe, and affordable water a reality for everyone in the U.S.: 

1). Why is the Clean Water Act important to you, your district, or your state?

Water is life; it is essential to all living things. The Clean Water Act upholds this truth and moves us closer to our goal of clean and safe water being a right afforded to every individual in the United States.” – Rep. Grace Napolitano

Clean water is fundamental to life and is a human right. That’s why the Clean Water Act is so important.” Chair Peter DeFazio

“It was in my lifetime that our waterways were too polluted and dangerous to swim in, drink from, or be free of toxic contaminants. The Clean Water Act was critical in our efforts to finally clean up our waterways so we could enjoy them again.” – Rep. Debbie Dingell

The Clean Water Act has worked to keep the Chesapeake Bay fishable, swimmable and drinkable.” Chair Ben Cardin

Water quality affects everyone everywhere, and we must ensure our children and grandchildren have access to the clean water they need to drink and bodies of water to play in for generations to come.” – Rep. Lucy McBath

The Clean Water Act plays a pivotal role in protecting our public and environmental health as well as bolstering our economy and building strong communities.” Rep. Paul Tonko

“The CWA is important because equitable access to clean water is not just a climate justice issue – it’s a racial justice & housing justice issue.” – Rep. Nikema Williams

In short, clean water impacts every part of our state.” Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester  

2). Is there a body of water or place that grounds you in the fight for clean water? 

The Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge is a great example of how we can transform heavily polluted areas back into thriving ecosystems that are safe for fishing, kayaking, & swimming.” – Rep. Debbie Dingell

The Chattahoochee River runs through our community, and it is so important that our friends and neighbors can rely on a safe, clean environment for their families.” – Rep. Lucy McBath

There’s nothing quite like taking a walk down the Brandywine Creek near my home in Wilmington.” – Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester  

The Mohawk River flows through my hometown of Amsterdam, NY and is the largest tributary to the historic Hudson River.” – Rep. Paul Tonko

The Chesapeake Bay and its tributary rivers and streams.” – Chair Ben Cardin

3). What is your vision for the future of water access in the United States?

“My vision for water access in the U.S. is to Build Back Better and boldly invest in the replacement of our nation’s outdated water infrastructure to ensure equitable, sustainable access to clean water for EVERYONE in EVERY ZIP code -no matter the size of your bank account.” – Rep. Nikema Williams

To build back better, we must remove lead pipes, rebuild our nation’s crumbling and dangerous water systems and bring environmental justice to every community.” – Sen. Tammy Duckworth

“I’m fighting for investments in water infrastructure to protect people’s health and the environment.” – Chair Peter DeFazio

Ensuring every American has access to clean drinking water, regardless of income, and finally getting the lead out of every pipe that delivers water in the US.” – Rep. Debbie Dingell

With resilient water infrastructure, we can make a real difference.” – Rep. Lucy McBath

“Clean water is a human right. Every American deserves to know their drinking water is safe & have access to America’s beautiful lakes and rivers.” – Rep. Paul Tonko

Together we can achieve clean, affordable water access in every kind of community that will serve generations—rural, urban and suburban.” – Chair Ben Cardin

4). What does Congress need to do to ensure everyone has access to clean water?  

Congress needs to finally treat access to clean water as a human right!” – Rep. Debbie Dingell

Investing in our communities and focusing on common-sense legislation that protects the health & safety of our environment will make a big difference toward providing our families with access to clean water.” – Rep. Lucy McBath

Congress must pass bold investments to help communities improve their wastewater and drinking water systems, and stormwater infrastructure, while enhancing resilience to climate change.” – Chair Peter DeFazio

Congress needs to deliver historic investments in our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure with a focus on upgrading aging infrastructure, addressing the threat of climate change, investing in new technologies, and providing assistance to marginalized communities.” – Chair Ben Cardin

“Clean water must also be affordable. That’s why I introduced HR3293, to help low-income homes pay their drinking water & wastewater bills.” – Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester  

Clean waterways offer significant environmental & economic value for our communities.” – Rep. Paul Tonko

Congress must invest far more into our water infrastructure.” – Sen. Tammy Duckworth

5). How can those of us outside the halls of Congress engage in the fight for clean, safe, and affordable water for all?

Speak up!” – Rep. Debbie Dingell

The fight for #CleanWater impacts us all. We can protect this resource by demanding robust national water protections and investment in local initiatives.” – Chair Peter DeFazio

There’s no shortage of ways to get in touch with your Member of Congress. Remember, we’re here to serve YOU.” – Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester  

Call your representatives, show up for your community and use your VOTE as your VOICE to elect equity/climate conscience public officials on EVERY level of government.” – Rep. Nikema Williams

You can each continue to put a face to the issue of clean water.” – Chair Ben Cardin

Every little bit helps & everyone can make a difference.” – Rep. Lucy McBath