"Some rivers and lakes wouldn’t be swimmable today without this critical law. But it could use a refresh to help meet our current challenges."
"The Clean Water Act came to life the same year I did, kicking and screaming and full of promise. Now we’re both turning 50 — me and the law formally known as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972.
The half-century mark is a good time to take stock of one’s performance, and it’s fair to say that, like me, the Clean Water Act has some wrinkles and blemishes. As a longtime environmental journalist covering the Chesapeake Bay, I’ve seen the Act struggle as it reached middle age. At times, it hasn’t been all it could be, or all it should be.
It tackled the easy problems first, like factory pollution and sewage discharges, while putting off the harder lifts like agriculture and stormwater. And it’s become weak in the face of problems it doesn’t regulate, like manure runoff from small operations. It can seem, well, tired. As if it’s lost its fight, its verve, and it’s still following routines that don’t quite get the job done. We’re still wrangling over what waters fall under its jurisdiction, and what we define as a waterway. At 50, we should know what we are, right?"