Celebrating Progress and Call for Continued Action on the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act 

Campaign encourages grassroots activism to reclaim the right to clean waterways

(Takoma Park, Md.) — October 18th marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a revolutionary federal law—implemented through state and local governments—that sets precedents for making waterways clean for public enjoyment and provides safe drinking water to all communities. Waterkeepers Chesapeake partnered with water advocates and local communities in a year-long campaign to celebrate the Clean Water Act through stories, events and action with the message of reclaiming our right to clean water. This week, the Clean Water Act 50th Anniversary Campaign offers a variety of local events to celebrate past successes and spur action to face today’s challenges and obtain clean water justice for everyone. 

“The Clean Water Act 50th Anniversary campaign is an opportunity for everyone to build momentum in the fight for clean water in their communities, and our work doesn’t stop there,” said Robin Broder, Deputy Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “This powerful law gives us the tools to address today’s challenges of climate change and environmental injustices. We need to engage communities on how to leverage it and take collective action.”  

To help engage and educate communities, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, local Waterkeepers and campaign partners are hosting a series of exciting and impactful events this week across our region. Upcoming events include the James River Association’s Clean Water Act 50th Anniversary Celebration and Annual Meeting in Virginia, Blue Water Baltimore’s first annual CWA50 Awards Reception,  Assateague Coastkeeper’s Cheers to 50 Years: Clean Water Act Celebration in Maryland, and Waterkeepers Chesapeake “Water is Life” Open Mic Night at Busboys and Poets at 14th& V in Washington, D.C. Local citizens have also gotten involved by sharing their stories of protecting their communities from pollution using Clean Water Act protections. See the full list of events here. 

“The Clean Water Act serves as the foundation of our work as Riverkeepers—fighting for the health of our local rivers and our communities’ right to swimmable and fishable waterways—on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and throughout the Bay watershed,” said Matt Pluta, Choptank Riverkeeper and Director of Riverkeeper Programs at ShoreRivers. “If the last 50 years of work are a testament to what can be accomplished when people are empowered by the law to protect their right to clean rivers, then I can’t help but get excited about what the next 50 years will bring in addressing local pollution.”

Kicking off the next 50 years, clean water advocates say that they need people to power this movement. People can get involved directly by reporting pollution, becoming a member and supporting their local Waterkeepers. Waterkeepers and allies also encourage people to #VoteForCleanWater this November by making their voices heard on Election Day. Numerous states in the Chesapeake watershed have voter registration deadlines in mid-October, around the October 18 law-signing anniversary. 

“Driven by public outcry and action over polluted waters across the country, the Clean Water Act became one of the most important laws ever passed, assuring all people in the U.S. can access safe, clean water,” said Dean Naujoks, Potomac Riverkeeper at the Potomac Riverkeeper Network. “We’ve made a lot of progress over the last 50 years, yet there is still a lot of work to do to address new threats such as toxic coal ash and PFAS – the forever chemical.”

“The EPA and our state environmental agencies that implement the Clean Water Act have been starved for funding and simply don’t have the resources they need to do their jobs. That’s why the work of nonprofit grassroots organization like Waterkeepers are even more important to fill this role and protect our local communities from pollution,” said Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. “We will never achieve clean waterways and healthy communities without holding polluters accountable.”

Passed by Congress on October 18, 1972, the Clean Water Act set pollution limits on what companies could discharge into waterways and allowed for penalties when they violate the law and endanger public health. The law also enables community members to enforce the law, where the government has failed to do so, and hold polluters accountable. Across the nation, Waterkeepers have filed more than 25% of all enforcement cases.

The Act has led to a dramatic decrease in the levels of pollution in our country’s waterways and has helped end the culture of dumping raw sewage and untreated industrial waste into our waters and led to a vast improvement in the health and safety of waterways and communities across the country. The Clean Water Act continues to safeguard our nation’s waters as an important backstop to control pollution. 

For information about the campaign to highlight the vision of fulfilling the promise of the Clean Water Act’s, go to www.CleanWaterAct50.org.

Media contact: Robin Broder, robin(at)waterkeeperschesapeake.org, 703-786-8172

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