Water pollution issues were originally handled by the state government, but widespread public environmental concern in the late 1960s and early 1970s changed this. The federal government began to take a more active role.
|1962||Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring was published in 1962, which discussed various pollution problems, particularly the effect of agricultural practices on waterways.|
|1969||The Cuyahoga River caught on fire in northeast Ohio due to water pollution. Time Magazine's article and cover photo caught public attention and led to call for water pollution control measures|
|1969||A large oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara spiked media coverage, increased public concern, and resulted in political action being taken.|
|1970||Earth Day became a national holiday in 1970 in an attempt to promote ecological stewardship.|
There have been several important laws and regulations enacted pertaining to United States' water quality.
The citizen groups used it to sue hundreds of industrial companies who were discharging pollutants into waterways. Even though it allowed the citizen groups to advocate for water quality, the Refuse Act was not intended for environmental regulation. Its purpose was to keep waterways clear enough to allow for naval navigation.
In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed by President Nixon's administration as a result of public pressure. Its goals were to manage U.S. waterways so that by July 1, 1983, all waters would be fishable and swimmable, while also eliminating the discharge of pollutants into waters by 1985.
The Clean Water Act originally only accounted for point source polluters. When states set water quality standards, they usually organize by uses, such as:
Now the Environmental Protection Agency gives different industries water pollution limits. This includes public water treatment facilities.
EXAMPLESection 404 of the Clean Water Act regulates dredging and filling of navigable waters, even if they're wetlands, by issuing industries' permits through the Army Corps of Engineers, in order to assess negative impact to wetlands.
Addressing non-point source pollution is much more difficult than point source because it comes from a wide distribution of sources, and therefore it is hard to target the polluter. Efforts to mitigate non-point source pollution include:
Efforts to address water pollution in the United States has resulted in sewage treatment plants dramatically reducing water pollution. About half of U.S. waterways are now considered clean, and the most severe cases have been substantially improved and cleaned. International efforts have been primarily focused on agreements around protecting international waterways. While dozens of countries have signed agreements between each other to prevent water pollution, few have included any agreed-upon standards or requirements.