Clean Water Act hits the big 4-0
Minnesota is known for its beautiful natural waterways. After all, not only are we the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but even the name Minnesota refers to sky-tinted waters.
Those lakes and rivers are a lot more beautiful now than they were 40 years ago, thanks to the Clean Water Act. Loons and lake trout, along with nursing mothers and eager anglers should all sign a huge Happy Birthday card for that landmark legislation.
It was October 18 of 1972 when the US Congress overrode President Nixon’s veto of the Act. It had taken a fire on a Cleveland river and frighteningly high bacteria counts in the Hudson River to get the country’s attention. Here in Minnesota, 40% of the industries in the state were simply dumping their wastes into rivers and lakes.
In Duluth, there were dead and cancerous fish in the St. Louis River and a drinking water advisory after asbestos-like fibers were found in the city water supply. No wonder that the leading voice in Congress for the Clean Water Act was from northeastern Minnesota, Congressman John Blatnik, chair of the Public Works Committee (with a lot of help from his legislative aide and successor, Jim Oberstar).
The Clean Water Act had a highly ambitious goal: to identify all polluted waterways and clean them up by 1983. We haven’t quite reached that goal.
Here in Northeastern Minnesota the Clean Water Act has:
- Funded $100 million in wastewater treatment facilities on Lake Superior, including the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District’s harborfront facility.
- Helped set standards for how clean our lakes and rivers should be and funded the work to make them that clean.
- Given citizens the right to sue polluters, as they did against Reserve Mining to stop epic pollution of Lake Superior.
At age 40, the Clean Water Act is a mature and well-respected part of the basic regulatory environment. While there have been skirmishes over the decades about specific parts of the Act, few people challenge the underlying notion that everyone deserves clean water.
So happy birthday, Clean Water Act! And many happen returns!
Andrew Slade is the Northeast Program Coordinator for Minnesota Environmental Partnership