In our line of work, the federal Clean Water Act is the most important piece of legislation ever passed. The Clean Water Act classifies waterbodies and requires that we ensure each waterbody meets the criteria of its class. When a waterbody fails to meet criteria, the Clean Water Act requires that it be restored. The law authorizes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), state agencies, and even private citizens to take legal action against those who violate the regulations of the Act. The Clean Water Act sets a basic structure for regulating the discharge of pollutants from pipes or other conveyances known as point sources. It sets limits through permits that renew every five years. We track and comment on permits for sources that discharge in the Casco Bay watershed to ensure all Clean Water Act permits help protect the health of Casco Bay.
Fifty years ago, sailing magazines urged boaters to steer clear of Casco Bay’s putrid smelling waters as untreated sewage and industrial pollution ran straight into the Bay. Then along came the Clean Water Act of 1972, thanks to Maine Senator Edmund Muskie.
“Can we afford clean water? Can we afford rivers and lakes and streams and oceans which continue to make life passable on this planet? Can we afford life itself? … These questions answer themselves.” This impassioned speech by Senator Muskie convinced his colleagues to support his landmark legislation to protect the nation’s rivers, lakes, estuaries, and drinking water, Senator Muskie was trying to alert Congress to the threats to our coastal waters, rivers, and lakes, from raw sewage, industrial discharges, ship wastes, and oil spills. The goal of this historic law was to ensure fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters for all Americans.
Thanks to Senator Muskie and bipartisan support for passage of the Clean Water Act, we have tools in place that help remove primary sources of raw sewage and bacteria from the Bay.
We also have water quality standards and limits on the discharge of certain pollutants, such as mercury and ammonia, known to be hazardous to marine and human health.
Nearly a half century after Senator Muskie campaigned for clean water, we are making progress, but we still face challenges to fulfill the promise of the Clean Water Act.
Photograph by Kevin Morris • Aerial support provided by LightHawk