California Love: 40 Years of Clean Water Act Protections

This Thursday marks the 4oth Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which begs the question: what has the Clean Water Act done for your favorite waters—the very waters you swim in, you fish on, and/or you get your drinking water from? And the answer is quite simple: the Clean Water Act protects them from pollution! For forty fabulous years the Clean Water Act has ensured that America’s waters remain swimmable, drinkable, and fishable, so why stop now?!

Manhattan Beach. Flickr photo by elfidomx.
I am a Californian—I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I attended college in Northern California, and the term ‘hella’ has become a part of my every day vernacular—and I care about clean water. As a child my father would take my brother and me to the southern California beaches, from Santa Barbara to Long beach, we visited them all. Periodically, I would see trash wash up on the shore and I would ask my father why that would occur. He responded by saying, “Well, when it rains all the trash along the street will go into the sewers and then flow to the ocean. But believe me Robyn, it used to be a lot worse.” I could not fathom how such dirty, polluted water could find its way into our pristine waters, but my father was right: prior to the Clean Water Act, our waters, in fact all of America’s waters, were a lot worse.

California’s Waters Depend on the Clean Water Act

In light of two Supreme Court decisions, the scope of the Clean Water Act has been narrowed leaving at least 66% of streams and more than 77,000 acres of scarce wetlands in California at risk of uncontrolled filling and pollution. To protect California’s waters, Clean Water Act protections need to be restored to all wetlands, lakes, and streams throughout the state.

These small and seasonal streams and wetlands trap substantial amounts of nutrients, chemicals, and sediments.  They are vital for capturing fertilizers and other run-off from California’s cities and 75,000 farms and ranches. If these pollutants are not filtered out then they will reach downstream waters, increasing drinking water treatment costs and damaging fish and wildlife.

Los Angeles River. Flickr photo by Al Pavangkanan.
Small streams and wetlands also recharge groundwater in the wet season and maintain stream flow in the dry season. EPA reports that seasonal streams are responsible for “a large portion of basin ground-water recharge” in California’s arid and semi-arid regions. Wetlands recharge groundwater at a rate of up to 20% of wetland volume per season, and some forested wetlands can recharge 100,000 gallons of water per acre per day.  Recurring droughts and overuse of existing water supplies make protecting these vital recharge areas critical for Californians.

What’s next?

If the small, intermittent streams are not protected then the services they provide will no longer exist. Therefore, Californians may be at risk for increased flooding, drought, nutrient pollution, stormwater runoff and polluted beaches. We can celebrate the success the Clean Water Act has provided us, such as cleaner Californian beaches and streams, but there is still work that needs to be done.

For those of you who care about clean water—I’m looking at you America—help us celebrate 40 years of clean water and push forward for at least 40 more! I know what you’re thinking: “I haven’t even bought a gift, and I don’t even know what I am going to wear to the party!” Don’t worry, those details will work themselves out, but for now the easiest action is to participate in our social media actions this week.

Take ActionWhiskey is for drinking, and water is for fighting over. No words have ever been so true. Fight for America’s waters and ensure that future generations have fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters! Take action and help restore clean water today!