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Clean Water Act Becomes a Law

NATIONWIDE一 On Oct. 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act, which protects the nation’s waters from pollutants, was signed into law.

The Federal Water Pollution Control Act was signed into law in 1948, becoming the first major U.S. law to address water pollution; in 1972, the law was amended and became known as the Clean Water Act, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency website.

The amendment established the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharge; gave the EPA authority to create pollution control programs, like setting wastewater standards; maintained previous requirements for water quality standards for contaminants in surface waters; made it illegal to discharge pollutants into boating waters, unless they had a permit; funded the construction of sewage treatment plants; recognized the need to address nonpoint source pollution, according to the EPA website.

The law came into play in the early ’70s; after it, several revelations came to light about water pollution and the havoc it played on the nation.

In 1968 a survey showed that pollution in the Chesapeake Bay created millions of dollars in revenue loss for local fishermen. In 1969 a study showed that bacteria levels in the Hudson River were 170 times the legal limit, pollution from a food processing plant killed 26 million fish creating the largest fish kill on record, and an oil slick in Ohio caused the infamous fire on the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, according to

The bill soared through both houses before President Richard Nixon vetoed it, and then Nixon’s veto was vetoed by the legislature the following morning.

Revisions to the bill were made in 1981, which streamlined the grant process for the construction of treatment plants; 1987 phased out the construction grants program and replaced it with the State Water Pollution Control Revolving Fund, Clean Water State Revolving Fund; in 1990, the Title I of the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act was signed creating an agreement between the U.S. and Canada to reduce toxic pollutants in the Great Lakes, according to the EPA website.

The Clean Water Act has positively impacted U.S. waterways and continues to do so.

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