Celebrating 50 years of the Clean Water Act

Tuesday, October 18, 2022


Celebrating 50 years of the Clean Water Act 

As the Clinton River Watershed Council staff and members reflect on our 50th anniversary, we would be remiss to gloss over the importance of another 50 year milestone: the Clean Water Act.

The Clean Water Act (CWA) is the principal federal law that acts to protect the waters of the United States. The CWA was passed in 1972 as an overhaul of the 1948 Federal Water Pollution Control Act. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the primary authority of the CWA, working hand-in-hand with state and local governments to enforce the law and develop and improve programs that work to eliminate pollution. The CWA guides regulations for wastewater treatment facilities, stormwater pollution, animal feeding operations, hazardous substance spills, and more.


What does the Clean Water Act mean to the CRWC?

In the 1960s, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources conducted a fish survey from the outfall of the river at Lake St. Clair to just downstream of the former Pontiac Wastewater Treatment Plant. The survey results were shocking: Not a single living fish was found across those many miles on the main branch. It wasn’t uncommon to see things like old cars, farming equipment, leftover building materials, as well as household refuse along the banks and in the river itself.

In the ‘70s, attitudes began to shift on a large scale. Watershed residents dreamed of a river filled with fish, canoers (kayakers today), swimming children, and the like; all hallmarks of a healthy relationship with the water. This was the beginning of federal pollution controls, as well as local advocates putting in the work to improve the quality of our Clinton River. Without the support of the Clean Water Act, it isn’t impossible to imagine a river still sullied by years of dumping.

Over the past 50 years, countless individuals and groups have gotten their hands dirty for the sake of our fresh water. Just one CRWC program, Weekly Clean (a part of our larger Keeping-It-Clean program), tells an amazing story of change. In the 10 years that the Weekly Clean program has been in operation, over 100,000 pounds of trash have been removed from the Clinton River and surrounding green spaces. With the help of over 4,000 Weekly Clean volunteers, items like couches, tires, construction signs, and a seemingly endless number of single-use plastics have been removed and disposed of properly. These programs likely would not exist to this scale if not for requirements written in the Clean Water Act.

Everything we do is for clean water, and we would not be able to accomplish what we do without the support of our members, contributors, partners, and volunteers! Across our many programs and events, the CRWC simply would not exist without dedicated people who share the dream of a clean, healthy river and watershed. A far cry from its state in the ‘60s, the Clinton River is now a state-designated water trail for paddlers, a thriving trout fishery, and a sparkling treasure running through our very backyards.

Looking to the future, we see the effects of climate change exacerbating today’s single greatest threat to our freshwaters: stormwater pollution. Stormwater is the rainfall or snow melt than runs off of impervious surfaces such as roads, parking lots, and buildings. Stormwater pollution often includes substances like fertilizer, road salt, litter, oil, gasoline, animal waste, and heavy metals, to name a few. Stormwater runs off of impervious surfaces and into storm drains, which empty directly into our lakes, rivers, and streams without treatment. Once these contaminants enter our waterways, they become very difficult to remove, and may persist for years to come.

Under programs set forth under the Clean Water Act, the CRWC engages thousands of watershed residents in workshops and presentations to share information on stormwater pollution as well as how to prevent it. Since the first student monitoring event in 1992, the CRWC has reached over 65,000 K-12 students through Stream Leaders, creating opportunities for youth to get connected to their local natural resources. These combined efforts create better informed citizens, who have already begun to take action to reduce stormwater pollution.

Everyone plays a part in protecting clean water. From making better choices as a homeowner, teaching others about protecting freshwater, to reporting suspicious activity when you see it, our daily actions make a difference in the environment for generations to come.


To explore upcoming volunteer opportunities, head to https://www.crwc.org/events.

To learn more about how to protect clean water, check out our resource library at https://www.crwc.org/resources, or give us a call at 248-601-0606. Our staff members are always happy to chat!


Help protect our watershed from illegal dumping and contaminants; if you see something, say something!

For Macomb County: 1-877-679-4337

For Oakland County: 248-858-0931

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