Everyday we turn on the tap and get a glass of water, brush our teeth, wash our hands, and cook our food. We need to drink water to survive, but we also use it for everyday things. What would you do if you turned on the tap and there was no clean water for you to drink?
The inability to guarantee clean water, called water security, is a problem that is becoming more and more of a possibility as water pollution increases with every plastic bag or straw we use and every pesticide sprayed on a plant.
Here is a quick video to explain the basics of water pollution.
Now that you know what water pollution is, we can look at what is being done to prevent it.
The government, specifically a part of the government called the Environmental Protection Agency, works hard to try to protect our waterways to make sure that fish and other water animals can live, and to be sure we have safe water to drink. The presentation below explains a little bit about the more recent history of water pollution and what the government is doing to regulate it.
How Federalism Plays into The Clean Water Act
Federalism is a word which just means that power is split up between the states and the federal government. That means that if the federal government puts a policy in place, every state has to implement and enforce it. If that federal government determines that the states are not doing their job in creating, implementing, and enforcing these policies, the federal government can take over and create their own policies, but they are the responsible for enforcing them. 2Rosenbaum, Walter. 2020. “Governments in Conflict.” In Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th ed.,4. Sage Publications, Inc.
Federalism is very important in understanding water policy. The infographic below explains the different roles of the federal and state governments, the two main institutions involved in the policy.
To summarize, the federal government (specifically the EPA) and the state governments must work together to create policies and make sure they are followed. The states have the authority to create water pollution standards and have the power to implement policies to make sure those standards are met. 3Rosenbaum, Walter.2020. “Governments in Conflict.” In Environmental Politics and Policy, 11th ed.,4. Sage Publications, Inc.
The EPA has the authority to revise or veto those standards4Pifher, Mark T. 1997. “The Clean Water Act: Cooperative Federalism?” Natural Resources & Environment 12 (1): 34-38., but does not have the power to implement policies, they must rely on the court system to make the states comply. 5US EPA, OECA. 2013. “Basic Information on Enforcement.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA. May 3, 2013. https://www.epa.gov/enforcement/basic-information-enforcement.
You have gone over the history of water policy, but what has changed?
It has been 48 years since the Clean Water Act was passed and amended (changed). It has been the most influential environmental water policy introduced and continues to have significant effects today. There have been many more laws implemented since the Clean Water Act, which are directed at industries, hospitals, schools and market areas on how to dispose, treat and manage sewage.
Do you know the water laws in the United States?
Since the 1972 clean water act and decades of regulation and legal action against big polluters, the main cause of U.S. water pollution today is “non point source pollution.” Runoff can contain fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides from farms and homes; oil and toxic chemicals from roads and industry; sediment; bacteria from livestock; pet waste; and other pollutants. If these pollutants end up in our waterways, they can cause massive health risks to people, marine life and whole ecosystems.
Here are some of the current problems caused by non point pollution in America:
- Approximately 40% of the lakes in America are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming.6DoSomething.org. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-pollution
- Over 20,000 known abandoned and uncontrolled hazardous waste sites.7Groundwater.org. https://www.groundwater.org/get-informed/groundwater/contamination.htm
- About 10% of America’s beaches fail to meet the federal benchmark for what constitutes safe swimming water.8USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/25/beaches-polluted-pollution-water-runoff-sewage-bacteria/11349409/
- Each year 1.2 trillion gallons of untreated sewage, stormwater, and industrial waste are dumped into US water.9DoSomething.org. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-pollution
- Recent water quality data find that more than 291,000 miles of assessed rivers and streams do not meet water quality standards.
- Every year, 3.5 million Americans contract health issues such as skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, and hepatitis from sewage-laden coastal waters.10EPA. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-09/documents/2000_06_30_305b_98report_98summary.pdf
- Half of our rivers and streams and more than one-third of our lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing, and drinking. This is with the water act in place!!11NRDC. https://www.nrdc.org/stories/water-pollution-everything-you-need-know
What Can You Do to Prevent Water Pollution?
With your actions, there are simple ways you and your parents can prevent water pollution and limit your contribution to water contamination right now!
Keep trash and chemicals out of storm drains – by doing this you stop runoff into lakes, ponds or oceans.
Plant a native or drought-tolerant plant garden – this reduces water consumption and also the need for fertilizer.
Dispose of household cleaners properly – household cleaners contain many dangerous chemicals that if let into the water ways are toxic.
Your toilet is not a trash can – nondegradable products can be difficult for the sewage treatment process and wind up littering beaches and water ways.
Choose Clean Energy Choices – Renewable clean energy is not only cleaner for air pollution but indirectly water pollution.
Don’t Litter – Don’t throw litter into rivers, lakes or oceans. Help clean up any litter you see on beaches or in rivers and lakes.
With your voice, you and your parents can aid the fight against water pollution.
These are some websites and organizations that support clean water. Your voice can change the world use it!
Water alliance is a really great group that looks to tackles water pollution in America becoming a member is a very rewarding experience and can effect change. Here is the link for more information.
You can also right to your local representative and talk about how important water is! Your voice matters and even voicing your concerns or showing your support can influence change in your local community.
There are also many opportunities to sign petitions for many different water policies. Here is a link!
What to watch for in the coming year:
- Revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule,
- A public meeting to discuss a proposed reduction in the scope of the Clean Water Act, the first national drinking water regulation for a new contaminant in more than two decades
- A PFAS management plan
- Drought negotiations on the Colorado River
- The Supreme Court considering whether pollution of groundwater that is connected to rivers and lakes is regulated under the Clean Water Act
- The U.S. and Canada continuing Columbia River Treaty negotiations. 13Circle of Blue. “2019 Preview of US Government Water Policy. http://www.circleofblue.org/2019/world/2019-preview-u-s-government-water-policy/
When was the Clean Water Act put in place?
While the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was put in place in 1948, it was amended in 1972, which is when it became known as the Clean Water Act. (Environmental Protection Agency, 2013)
What is federalism?
Correct, re-read that infographic if you are still confused!
What is so bad about water pollution?
Please select 4 correct answers
Water pollution does a lot of damage, but creating air pollution isn't one of them. The problems are already here and we definitely need to be aware of water pollution and do our part to fix it.
What can you do to prevent water pollution?
Please select 4 correct answers
There is a lot we can and should do to prevent more water pollution. It is our job to do what we can to help solve this problem to which we have contributed.
Which one is an example of a non-point source pollutant?
A non-point source pollutant is a source which is larger and does not come from a specific place. It is difficult to regulate.
If you want to learn more about water pollution…
To learn more about how large animal farms are large sources of pollution, you should read this.
If you are a high schooler or up, and you prefer to watch a video, this ten minute clip gives a comprehensive understanding of water pollution in the US.