clean-water-act

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The EPA knew it was stepping onto a battlefield Wednesday when it released its final version of a rule aimed at protecting America’s stream and wetlands, clearing up confusion inherent in the original Clean Water Act and allowing regulators to stop pollution from spreading to the larger waterways on which one in three Americans rely for drinking water. And the agency was ready for the critics. 

“The only people with reason to oppose the rule are polluters who knowingly threaten our clean water"

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Glass Beach is a real beach in Fort Bragg, California. Why so much glass? It once used as a trash dump for decades.

In the early 20th century, Fort Bragg residents threw their household garbage over the cliffs above what is now Glass Beach. They discarded glass, appliances, and even cars. The land was owned at that time by the Union Lumber Company, and locals referred to it as “The Dumps.” Sometimes fires were lit to reduce the size of the trash pile.

In 1967, the North Coast Water Quality Board and city leaders closed the area. Various cleanup programs were undertaken through the years to correct the damage.

Over the next several decades the pounding waves cleansed the beach, wearing down the discarded glass into the small, smooth, colored trinkets that cover the beach today.

Via: Wiki; Photos; World Tourism

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Wal-Mart hit with multi-million dollar fine for Clean Water Act violations
  • $82Mfine to be paid by Wal-Mart for six counts of violating the Clean Water Act, to which the company has pleaded guilty. Prosecutors said workers in California, as a primary example, were until January 2006 not trained in disposing of hazardous waste, instead dumping it in municipal trash cans or down sink drains into the sewer system. That case was settled at the state level in 2010, but a subsequent federal case has cost the retail giant the above chunk of change. source

America, model for the world? This coal plant leaks and dumps waste into the Yellowstone River. Only about 30% of coal burned in a power plant produces electricity - the remaining 70% of the energy is literally wasted…

If you can stomach it, here’s a picture of an ExxonMobil oil refinery, also on the Yellowstone. This is how your electricity works…

Corette coal-fired power plant on the Yellowstone River in Montana. This facility is discharging toxic water pollution into the Yellowstone using a permit that should have expired several years ago. 

Photo of the day: Clean Water Act celebrates 40 years of water conservation
On Oct. 18, 1972, the United States passed the landmark Clean Water Act. Crafted with the goal of ensuring that all U.S. waters — including these coastal wetlands seen at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Newburyport, Mass. — are “fishable and swimmable,” the ambitious act has seen its fair share of successes and shortcomings in the past 40 years. Before the CWA passed, only a third of all water in the country was safe for swimming and fishing.

Earth Day 1970

Perhaps we should go back to the time of the first Earth Day. It was a very troubled time, more troubled perhaps even than today if you can believe it.

We were stuck in the midst of the Viet Nam war: we were losing our schoolmates to the war, to the first wave of recreational drug use, social unrest and race riots were nearly daily phenomena. The killings at Kent State followed the first Earth Day by just a matter of days, showing how “afraid” the authorities were of “us.”

So there we were, about a hundred of us if I recall correctly, marching from our high school into downtown to “protest” for our love of the Earth: we had all read Rachel Carson’s The Silent Spring. Once the local businesses we passed figured out we weren’t war protesters (this time), we were accepted, smiled at, treated with somewhat of a condescending acceptance by people passing by in their immense V8’s – this was also the time before the oil crisis, when smog levels were at their worst, when it was perfectly okay to dump mine wastes into streams, and only Lady Bird Johnson seemed concerned that the USA was becoming an eyesore.

20 million Americans participated in rallies and rather innocuous protest marches such as ours under the urging of US Senator Gaylord Nelson on April 22, 1970. There wasn’t much we could do about the war in Viet Nam except yell; there wasn’t much we could do about civil unrest except to naively believe in the power of love. But maybe, just maybe, we could save the planet. We believed we could just by marching down Main Street.

Hard to imagine, but it was, believe it or not, Richard Nixon who, following the Earth Day protests, created the Environmental Protection Agency and passed the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Subsequent administrations have been hacking at these ever since. It was the ‘70s when recycling centers began to appear and be utilized and when the “crazy” environmental movement took shape.

The Earth today seems even more threatened than ever before. Maybe that little march of ours in 1970 was useless and silly, but I like to believe that maybe it did help to initiate the age of environmental awareness. We did not save the planet, at least, not yet.

Call me “crazy”…

Annie R

Image: An Earth Day poster of 1970 by Ralph Bently. I had this poster in my dorm room at college for several years.

http://mrlreference.blogspot.gr/2011_04_01_archive.html
http://www.earthday.org/earth-day-history-movement

slate.com
Why Rivers No Longer Burn

Above: one of several fires on the Cuyahoga River in Ohio. Used as a dump for about two centuries, it caught fire on a regular basis. “When the Cuyahoga burst into flame in 1969, it was not a huge deal to locals. After all, the river had burned almost every decade over the previous century,” writes James Salzman. The Cuyahoga was not the only river to catch fire. Indeed, dozens of rivers around the nation were terribly polluted (Salzman tells of a fall into the Charles River in Boston in the ’70s. He went to hospital for skin treatment). 

It is inconceivable to think that our rivers were actually this bad, but they were: there were no environmental laws, and no system of regulations or penalties. Waste was dumped into rivers for decades and decades. The Cuyahoga fires were an accidental symbol of deterioration that verged on scandal. Now rivers are pretty much cleaned up thanks to the Clean Water Act, which just turned 40.

Duke environmental law professor, James Salzman wrote about the Clean Water Act (CWA) for Slate. Salzman’s article, “Why Rivers No Longer Burns” shows that politicians can work together, so long as they have the guts to actually govern. He writes that the Clean Water Act is one of the greatest successes in environmental law. It’s a short overview of how the CWA came to be. I remember being inspired to go to law school when I read similar short articles on the environment. Perhaps you will too… 

In 1972, a landmark law reversed the course of this filthy tide. Today, four decades later, the Clean Water Act stands as one of the great success stories of environmental law. Supported by Republicans and Democrats alike, the act took a completely new approach to environmental protection. The law flatly stated there would be no discharge of pollutants from a point source (a pipe or ditch) into navigable waters without a permit. No more open sewers dumping crud into the local stream or bay. Permits would be issued by environmental officials and require the installation of the best available pollution-control technologies.

The waste flushed down drains and toilets needed a different approach, so the Clean Water Act provided for billions of dollars in grants to construct and upgrade publicly owned sewage-treatment works around the nation. To protect the lands that filter and purify water as it flows by, permits were also required for draining and filling wetlands. Protecting our nation’s waters may seem like common sense today, but the idea of nationally uniform, tough standards against polluters was both original and radical. Thinking big, the Clean Water Act’s preamble declared that the nation’s waters would be swimmable and fishable within a decade, with no discharges of pollutants within a dozen years. These weren’t idle boasts.

Via Slate

When the United States’ landmark Clean Water Act (CWA) was signed into law in 1972, the nation’s waterways and coastlines were in crisis. Oily debris in the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, had notoriously caught fire several times. The southernmost of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Erie, had been pronounced dead or dying. Fish in Californian coastal waters were so laced with the pesticide DDT that it disrupted the reproductive systems of brown pelicans, threatening them with extinction.

Forty years and billions of dollars later, rivers no longer burn, Lake Erie is much healthier and pelicans are off the endangered species list. But much remains to be done, scientists said yesterday at the North American meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Long Beach, California.

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From Nature (via Scientific American) Clean Water Act at 40: Rivers No Longer Burn but Climate Threats and Runoff Now Rush I

Also, check out our recent water series, Clean Water: The Next Act.

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Misha Collins in Rock the Boat

Rock the Boat is a fun, fast-paced documentary about the Los Angeles River and the challenges society faces in providing clean water to urban populations. Because of the LA river’s previous status as a non-navigable river, it didn’t fall under the protection of the Clean Water Act, which would have protected the river from pollutants and commercial runoff. In 2008, George Wolfe organized a boating trip down the river to prove it was navigable and therefore worthy of being protected by the clean water act, and it worked! In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency declared the river a navigable river and it is now protected, and there are plans in place to restore large portions of the river and turn them into parks. 

Please do not repost gifs, they took me a VERY long time to make.

Clean Water Act falls short

The Clean Water Act, passed by Congress 40 years ago, was intended to eliminate water pollution by 1985. But according to a new investigation by EarthFix and InvestigateWest, that goal has proven elusive. From their findings:

  • Whole categories of polluters are effectively exempt from penalties when they dump pollutants illegally. This affects thousands of facilities. 
  • Violations of the Clean Water Act in the Northwest occur routinely, yet citations and financial penalties are relatively rare.  
  • Government bodies are among the most prolific violators, especially those that manage aging sewage-treatment plants and stormwater pipes that dump polluted rainwater runoff directly into waterways. 

The screenshot comes from an interactive map plotting Clean Water Act violations in the Northwest from 2009-2012. See the full map and read the investigation here.