Clean Water Act 40 Years

Posted October 18, 2012

All the water that will ever be is, right now. -National Geographic, October 1993


The Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 was the first major U.S. law to address water pollution. Growing public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to sweeping amendments in 1972. As amended in 1972, the law became commonly known as the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The 1972 amendments:

  • Established the basic structure for regulating pollutants discharges into the waters of the United States.
  • Gave EPA the authority to implement pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry.
  • Maintained existing requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters.
  • Made it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained under its provisions.
  • Funded the construction of sewage treatment plants under the construction grants program.
  • Recognized the need for planning to address the critical problems posed by nonpoint source pollution.


On the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, NEC stands with Humboldt Baykeeper and the Waterkeeper Alliance in urging you to take action to protect California waters from industrial pollution.

Forty years ago today, the Clean Water Act was adopted by Congress. Though it has made vast strides toward fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters, polluters continue to attack clean water protections.

Polluted runoff from factories, landfills, scrap yards, and other industrial facilities can contaminate our waterways with lead, aluminum and other toxic pollutants. Our State Water Board is currently revising regulations on industrial polluted runoff through the update of a statewide Industrial Stormwater Permit. The Industrial Permit is 15 years old and is in desperate need of an update. But mounting political and economic pressures threaten to derail progress on a new permit and delay improvements to water quality. Please tell the State Water Board to develop a strong Industrial Stormwater Permit and require everyone to do their part to protect California’s waters.

We must not forget the commitment made 40 years ago to protect
that which is rightfully ours.


CLICK HERE to send a message to the State Water Board!

Act now! Comments are due Monday, October 22!



More on the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act from around the web:

Pollution on the Coyahoga River, 1969. Click photo for more info.

Water is Worth It (EPA's Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary page)

Clean Water Act is 40 Years Old: Landmark Water Law Hits a Milestone During Critical Time (Huffington Post)

Clean Water Act 2.0: Rights of Waterways (Huffington Post)

5 Wishes for the Clean Water Act on its 40th Birthday (EcoWatch)

Refreshing the Clean Water Act (Los Angeles Times)

Voices From the Past: Nixon, Congress Debate the Clean Water Act (Circle of Blue)

On the 40th Anniversary, Clean Water Act Faces Toxic Times (Earthjustice)

Protecting the Clean Water Act (American Rivers)

Happy Anniversary Clean Water Act! (National Wildlife Federation) - Includes social action suggestions and useful links

VIDEO: Waterkeeper Alliance/Clean Water Act 40th Anniversary