40 years of the Clean Water ActPublished 11:05pm Thursday, December 20, 2012
By Heather Jacobs Deck
The Pamlico-Tar River Foundation’s Riverkeeper
On Oct. 17, the Clean Water Act celebrated its 40th birthday. Enacted by Congress in 1972, the Clean Water Act has protected the nation’s water bodies from unregulated pollution and rescued many of them from the crisis status they were in during the 1960s and early 1970s.
Many may remember the accounts from 1969 when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, Ohio. Before the CWA, it was actually fairly common for rivers to catch fire in industrialized areas. Others might have more personal memories of swimming or boating in waters perhaps not so clean, or even avoiding swimming in rivers all together. This was especially true for river systems that ran through urban areas, where rivers prior to the CWA were routinely used as sewers for industrial and human wastes. But a national realization that we could no longer treat our waters as dumping grounds resulted in bringing life back to our nation’s rivers, streams and estuaries.
The three central goals of the CWA are to ensure that every stream, river, lake and estuary is fishable, swimmable and drinkable. For our beloved Pamlico-Tar River, the CWA provides us with the tools necessary to reduce pollution as well as supply critical funding for restoration. Since the 1980s and 1990s, when the Pamlico was considered “commercially dead” by the director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, the tools provided to us by the Clean Water Act have resulted in a revival of sorts. The Pamlico River estuary has improved, and that is partially because of the nutrient pollution reduction measures put in place in the 1990s and early 2000s to aid in improving water quality and fish habitat.
There are many examples to point to in the Pamlico-Tar River where the CWA has protected and improved the quality of our river. But there is more work to be done. The Pamlico River continues to suffer from nutrient pollution. In simple terms, an excessive amount of nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorus, are entering our waterways, wreaking havoc on the natural balance of the river system. Such pollution is partially to blame for the unprecedented early fall fish kill the river experienced in September and October.
Over the past year, the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation celebrated the successes of the Clean Water Act. It is our hope that 2013 will be the year for a new age of understanding the importance of responsible care of our nation’s rivers, especially our Pamlico-Tar River. Responsible care will advance, not hinder, economic recovery and ensure a healthful future for our river, drinking-water supplies and our communities.