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EGLE celebrates 50 years of the Clean Water Act

The federal Clean Water Act (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 marking the anniversary of the landmark legislation with a three-week educational webinar series.

“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.”

From 11 a.m.-noon Tuesday, Oct. 4, EGLE invites anyone with an interest in Michigan history and protecting the state’s water resources to virtually attend “50 Years of the Clean Water Act: An Overview of the Clean Water Act and its History and Significance in Michigan.” The program provides a historical perspective on the events that led to the Clean Water Act, an overview of important changes implemented, and what it all meant for Michigan. Online registration is open for the Oct. 4 webinar and the two others in the series:

About the Clean Water Act

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.

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.

Under the CWA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has implemented pollution control programs such as setting wastewater standards for industry and developed national water quality criteria recommendations for pollutants in surface waters. The CWA made it unlawful to discharge any pollutant from a point source into navigable waters without a permit.

In Michigan, water quality has significantly improved. The CWA requires the state to submit a biennial Integrated Report on the quality of its water resources to the EPA and U.S. Congress. The 2020 and 2022 reports are available online. 

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.