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Happy 50th birthday to the Clean Water Act

Today marks the 50th birthday of one of the most important environmental laws in the nation’s history, the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA took effect Oct. 18, 1972, regulating discharges of pollutants into U.S. waters and setting quality standards for surface waters. Now, 50 years later, Michigan is celebrating the anniversary of this landmark legislation with several activities including a proclamation by Governor Gretchen Whitmer that the year beginning October 18, 2022, is the Year of Clean Water in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the CWA.

A brilliant aerial view of a river in the morning sunshine, with fog covering the ground and sun rays piercing through

The CWA is the primary federal statute regulating protection of the nation’s waters. It developed out of growing public concern in the 1960s and 1970s over substantial pollution entering the nation’s waterways. Over the past half century, it has transformed water quality in lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans across the United States.

“This is a great time to reflect on a historic turning point for environmental protection,” said Liesl Clark, director of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), the agency responsible for implementing the CWA in Michigan. Clark said the Act has been especially impactful in Michigan, which sits in the center of the Great Lakes ecosystem containing one-fifth of the planet’s fresh surface water. “The resolve and foresight that produced the Clean Water Act also drives EGLE’s mission to protect Michigan’s environment and public health by managing our water and other natural resources.”

The Act significantly amended a 1940s-era water pollution control law and established the basic framework for regulating the discharge of pollutants to lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands; and for protecting water resources. Since the Act’s implementation and amendments over the years, Michigan and the U.S. have taken significant steps to meet its goals to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters.

Learn more about the CWA and its use in protecting and restoring water resources nationwide in "50 Years of the Clean Water Act," a multimedia presentation by the Association of Clean Water Administrators – an independent, nonpartisan, national organization of state, interstate, and territorial water program managers.

Keep up on EGLE events and activities surrounding the CWA’s 50th anniversary at Michigan.gov/CWA50.