America’s waters were not always protected the way they are today. In fact, most federal legislation dealing with the subject of water quality is less than 50 years old! During the 1960s there were several pieces of legislation passed that were focused on improving the quality of natural resources in the United States. A report by the Senate Select Committee recommended that federal agencies incorporate water quality, municipal needs, industrial needs, recreation, and fish and wildlife habitat into their missions. Further attention was given to water resources through the Water Resources Research act, which established water research institutes at land grant universities in every state, and the Water Resources Planning Act, which created a council that would conduct a wide array of tasks including evaluating agency plans, developing principles for water resources planning, and providing information to the public regarding water resources.
In an effort to curb deteriorating water quality in the United States, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, later amended by the Water Quality Act, was passed. These acts led to the creation of minimum water quality standards, which aimed to improve water quality and protect human health. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was the largest piece of environmental legislation passed during this period. NEPA required federal agencies to conduct environmental impact statements before projects could commence. For the first time, agencies were required to consider the impact their actions would have on the environment. In 1970, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was created and given the responsibility of coordinating federal water quality programs. The EPA was responsible for administrating the permitting process established by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, which later became the Clean Water Act, and enforcing standards set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Another focus of legislation during this period was the preservation of recreational water areas and wildlife habitat. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act was passed in 1968 to preserve rivers with aesthetic value. In order to protect species that are on the verge of extinction, the Endangered Species Act was passed. The legislation passed during this period changed the way water resources were managed and their development planned for. Following this period of increased environmental legislation, the Nation focused on what had been accomplished, and how it should proceed. Even though some see these pieces of legislation as a major intrusion into our lives by the federal government, it is undeniable that America’s waters are in much better shape than at the time the legislation was being conceived and written.
Now that you know more about the major legislation that protects your drinking water, do your part to conserve this resource that is essential to human life. Volunteer to help protect your local water supply by coordinating and conducting a source water protection inventory, or contributing to an existing one. Click here to learn more about these inventories. Implement simple conservation measures in your home. You will find some suggestions by clicking here. One more thing you can do is harvest rain for use as irrigation. Click here to learn how to create a backyard rain water harvesting system.
– Cutter, S. L., W. H. Renwick. 1999. Exploitation Conservation Preservation: A Geographic Perspective on Natural Resource Use. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. New York, New York.
– Thompson, S.A. 1999. Water Use, Management, and Planning in the United States. Academic Press. San Diego, California.