Processing Magazine

Water Act Wack-a-Mole continues 40 years on

November 14, 2012

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act and perhaps the most remarkable thing is that not very many people had too much bad to say about it.

As is well known, the Clean Water Act is the primary federal law governing water pollution. The law passed in 1972, as the Vietnam War was coming to a close. It is perhaps less frequently noted that then President Nixon vetoed the legislation, an action that was overridden the very next day by both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

The scope of the legislation is broad in that it was meant to 1) eliminate releases of high amounts of toxic substances into water; 2) eliminate water pollution; and 3) ensure surface waters meet established standards.

The legislation has great impact in daily life, as three stories “ripped” from today’s headlines illustrate:

According to its Kendall Gazette, Miami-Dade County in Florida has 14,000 miles of water sewer lines. Repair of the long-neglected water and sewage system may need a bond program upwards of $10.9 billion, including $3.5 billion to replace older water lines and $7.4 billion for the sewer system.

In the Gazette story, Douglas Yoder, Miami-Dade Water and Sewage department deputy director, points out to a concerned audience that “passage of the Federal Clean Water Act set standards and requirements for sewer systems.”

The county’s needs include funding required to abandon ocean outfalls for treating wastewater, an EPA-mandated requirement, as well as providing additional capacity for growth. Aging water mains with increasing leaks result from the need to maintain water pressure pumps at 60-65 pounds per square inch to serve the system, including substandard installations in some areas during the 1960s, Yoder says.

A second story, in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, highlights an announcement by Minnesota state officials that more than a decade of work to clean up wastewater, including millions of dollars spent on construction and new technology, has made the “lower reach of the Minnesota River a much healthier place for aquatic life.” Validated by tests taken in August, progress is seen as the result of long-term efforts to reduce the nutrient phosphorus, which suppresses oxygen in water.

Pollution caused by wastewater effluents has been reduced to such an extent that today nonpoint source pollutants, such as sediments, nutrients, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, animal wastes and other substances entering the water supply as components of runoff and groundwater account for more than 50% of pollution in U.S. waters.

Which leads us to our third story from today’s headlines: that the EPA may take over enforcing the Clean Water Act in Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register. This threat comes after two separate data analyses show that Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources has gone too easy on “live stock operators that pollute the state’s waterways with manure, often failing to follow even their own agriculture-friendly procedures.”

Guess it’s just another game of Wack-a-Mole. You beat back the barbarians in one spot and they creep back in at another.