October 18 marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. It is a significant U.S. law regulating pollutants and supporting water quality standards to ensure the nation’s waterways are healthy. Before this law, communities witnessed the rapid degradation of our rivers and lakes. An example in southeast Michigan is the Rouge River catching fire. As we reflect on the last 50 years and the achievements, we recognize it as an instrumental tool for people, organizations, and businesses to advocate for and expect clean water.
Many collaborative efforts among government, academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, businesses, and tribal governments are improving our creeks, rivers, and lakes to be fishable and swimmable. We’re fortunate to see this spirit of collaboration in southeast Michigan and in the broader Great Lakes region every day. In fact, many organizations write celebratory reflections and continuously organize events to keep our waterways healthy. Check out some of them here:
- Rouge Rescue events hosted by Friends of the Rouge
- Webinar | 50 Years of the Clean Water Act: Remaining Challenges of the Clean Water Act in Michigan hosted by Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy
- Thirty Years of Bugs and Citizen Science by Huron River Watershed Council
- Friends of the Detroit River held its annual Earth Day Clean Up event where 67 folks removed 1,561 pounds of trash from 5 water and 3 land sites
While we celebrate today, it doesn’t mean the work is over. We depend on the expertise and experiences of our local community leaders to identify new concerns. That expertise often transforms into collaborative efforts to help us learn about remaining and new challenges not addressed in the Clean Water Act including excess nutrient pollution from agricultural runoff, climate change, and emerging contaminants like PFAS. For example, watch this video to learn how a collaborative research group at Wayne State University is working with leaders from Friends of the Detroit River, Friends of the Rouge, and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to study the effects of PFAS and bring awareness and action to protect the Detroit River, the source of drinking water for six million people.
In the next 50 years, it’s important to keep the Clean Water Act strong and even consider adding new tools as we face new challenges. This will ensure our waterways are healthy for future generations and help us support a flourishing Great Lakes ecosystem.