Clean Water Act Turns 40 – Progress Made, More Needed

Environment Iowa

Today, October 18, 2012, marks the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a landmark environmental law.  The Clean Water Act was enacted after years of citizen outrage about massive and persistent water pollution across the country.  Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted it even repeatedly caught on fire.  Amelia Schoeneman, State Associate from Environment Iowa, described the water quality issues Iowans face forty years later:

“Today, the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers don’t threaten to ignite.  But we face a new set of problems. Thanks to two polluter-driven court cases, too many of our waterways are currently unprotected under the clean water act.  In fact here in Iowa 62% of our streams may be unprotected from pollution under the Clean Water Act, risking the health of 667 thousand Iowans and hundreds of acres of our wetlands.”

Schoeneman continued to speak on greater issues with Clean Water Act protections for Iowa: “The Clean Water Act doesn’t regulate the agricultural runoff from our state’s many farmlands that impairs our waterways—Iowa’s streams generally have 2 to 10 times more phosphorus and nitrogen than is considered appropriate and over half of our waterways are ranked as poor or very poor quality because of this unregulated flow of nutrients. The Iowa DNR has even failed to enforce the permitting required by the Clean Water Act for concentrated animal feeding operations and factory farms. According to a recent EPA report, only 9% of Iowa’s 1,648 CAFOs had the necessary permits just a year ago. Because of all this pollution, Iowa’s waterways suffer massive algal blooms and contamination from bacteria, and many are no longer safe for fishing or swimming.”

 “It’s time to build on 40 years of progress.  The EPA should restore Clean Water Act protections to all streams and set tough limits on pollution from factory farms.”

Jerry Peckumn, a Greene County corn and soybean farmer who serves as Board Chair for the group Iowa River Revival, knows that farmers are essential in making the necessary progress happen. “As farmer I know we can do better.  Each farmer should have a conservation plan, utilizing the many conservation tools in a site-specific strategy, to protect and restore the health of the state’s waters.”


Environment Iowa is a state-based, citizen-funded environmental advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.