Clean water: 45 years & no turning back

On the 45th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Oregon Environmental Council shines a spotlight on the work still needed to protect clean water for our communities, our economy, and future generations. Read Executive Director Andrea Durbin’s op-ed for The Oregonian/Oregonlive

BY ANDREA DURBIN

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the landmark law that was designed to protect and restore the integrity of our nation’s waters. It should be a cause for celebration – we’ve come a long way since the days when the Willamette River was a dumping ground for raw sewage and industrial waste.

Since passage of the Clean Water Act, Oregonians have used the law to push the state, cities, and industry to protect the places we love and hold polluters accountable. In the 1980s, Oregon was the first in the country to set specific limits on the discharge of municipal and industrial waste to improve the Tualatin River Watershed. In 2011, Oregon adopted some of the country’s strictest water quality standards to protect human health, taking into account for the first time American Indians’ higher rates of fish consumption. And just this year, the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission approved the first Outstanding Resource Waters designation in all of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska – the North Fork of the Smith River Watershed in southwestern Oregon.

As this state has done on clean cars, the bottle bill and land use, Oregon has been a leader on protecting and investing in clean water for the health of our communities, the security of our economy and future generations. Today, we applaud the organizations, agencies, and sovereign tribes that drove these achievements forward for the benefit of all Oregonians.

And while we celebrate, this anniversary is also a call to action. Recent headlines have revealed that Oregon has the second-worst water quality permit backlog in the country.Warming rivers contribute to toxic algae blooms and are affecting the recovery of endangered fish. Increasing numbers of wildfires and aging infrastructure will threaten drinking water supplies for millions of Oregonians. And in many areas, officials have promised more water than nature can provide.

Today we face a new set of water challenges that continue to threaten our health, our economy, and our way of life. Now is not the time to slow down or roll back the fight for clean water.

We call on our Congressional leaders to stand strong for clean water protections that affect the drinking water of millions of Oregonians and ensure that federal agencies have the funding needed to adequately meet clean water goals. That includes funding for programs that ensure safe drinking water for all, improve rural drinking water and stormwater systems, and support watershed restoration and agricultural conservation efforts.

The Clean Water Act is visionary and its goals ambitious. In Oregon, we have a history of coming together to make a difference for our environment. And recent polls show that people are more concerned about their water than ever. While clean water hangs in the balance in Washington, D.C., it’s time to harness that public support to invest as a state in the health of our children and future generations.

As we celebrate the 45th anniversary of this important law, our next big task is building the will to put the solutions to today’s water problems into action.

Learn more about how the Clean Water Act has shaped Oregon and where we need to go next.

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