Fifty Years After the Clean Water Act, Half of U.S. Waters Are Unsafe for Humans and Fish

A study of U.S. waterways shows that around half of lakes, rivers, and streams in the U.S. are too toxic to swim or fish in.

2 minute read

March 28, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

A river runs blue through the red rocks of the desert.

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A report from the Environmental Integrity Project reveals that around half of U.S. rivers and lakes are too polluted to swim or fish in, reports Theo Whitcomb in High Country News—this despite the 1972 Clean Water Act's ten-year target of making all of the nation's waters safe and accessible.

"The Clean Water Act delivered a major win — it laid the groundwork for essential enforcement on industry — but there were key failures. Most notably, legal loopholes continue to allow fertilizer runoff from farmland and manure runoff from factory farms." According to the article, "While rivers and lakes have significantly improved in the 50 years since the legislation passed, the fight to make sure all waters are safe continues." The study is based on an analysis of 27 percent of U.S. river and stream miles.

The report names California as first in the nation for river and stream miles too polluted for drinking. It would take 700 years "to achieve full restoration of currently impaired waterbodies under current pace of remediation, according to an EPA report from 2011."

Environmental advocates say lawmakers will once again have to put in the work that got the Clean Water Act passed in the first place to boost protections and create more effective regulations for cropland, a top cause of pollution that Environmental Integrity Project executive director Eric Shaeffer called the program's single biggest failure.

Thursday, March 24, 2022 in High Country News

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