When 40 years ago yesterday Congress passed the Clean Water Act, no one had to ask why we needed it. Memories were still fresh of seeing Ohio's Cuyahoga River actually catch fire, and many of our national waterways were filthy. In the four decades that followed passage of the Clean Water Act, things improved a lot. So much so, in fact, that we're now in danger of taking clean water for granted. That would be a mistake because even though the threats to our water are not as obvious as they were 40 years ago, they're still deadly serious.
Although Cuyahoga hasn't caught fire lately, communities across the U.S. are still discovering that their water supplies are being contaminated by industrial and agricultural pollutants like nitrates, perchlorate, and hexavalent chromium. Natural gas fracking, which could contaminate entire aquifers, is rampant and poorly regulated.
According to the EPA, nearly 1 in 10 Americans still don't have round-the-clock access to safe, clean drinking water that meets national health standards. Nearly a third of our waterways, in fact, still don't meet federal clean-water standards.
This is no time to let our guard down. It's time to step up and finish the job we started 40 years ago.
Back in 1972, Congress rose to the occasion with an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote to pass the Clean Water Act. I wish I could say the same for the Congress of today. I can't. Not only has it done nothing to strengthen clean water protections -- it has done everything it could to weaken them, with vote after vote. Although that's in keeping with its ignominious reputation as the most anti-environmental Congress in our nation's history, it still amazes me that so many politicians are willing to put the interests of plutocratic polluters ahead of the health and welfare of their own constituents.
Maybe they figured no one would notice.
They figured wrong. You can see for yourself exactly how your congressional representative voted on clean-water issues this year. Our Clean Water Report Card assigns grades from F to A+. Unfortunately, there were a lot of F's.
Did your representative flunk? Take a look and keep that grade in mind next time you pour yourself a glass of water, see an "unsafe for swimming" sign, or take your child or grandchild fishing. "You don't miss your water till your well runs dry," goes the old soul chestnut. We can't afford to test that adage. Let's strengthen -- not weaken -- the Clean Water Act before it's too late.