EPA Launches Iconic Waters Tour, Celebrating 50th Anniversary of Clean Water Act

WASHINGTON At an event in Seattle, Washington today, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator for Water Radhika Fox joined EPA Regional Administrator for the Pacific Northwest, Casey Sixkiller, Washington Department of Ecology Director Laura Watson, and local leaders to launch the 50e Anniversary of the Clean Water Act Celebration Tour.

“When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, with an overwhelming bipartisan majority, it charted a new course for America’s waters. As a result, we have seen transformational progress over the past 50 years – waters that were once polluted are now fishable and swimmable,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox. “President Biden and Congress laid the foundation for the next 50 years of progress by investing $50 billion in EPA water programs through the bipartisan Infrastructure Act.”

“Here in the Pacific Northwest, our iconic water bodies are the lifeblood of our communities,” said EPA Regional Administrator Casey Sixkiller. “We depend on them for so many things – clean water, transport and freight, recreation, our culture and our way of life. In many ways, water defines us. The Clean Water Act has fueled the Puget Sound Estuary National Program and our very successful partnerships with state, tribal, local governments and NGOs. Together we have made great strides to protect and restore the Sound and together we will continue this critically important work.

Five decades of implementation of the Clean Water Act have reduced direct pollution discharges into our nation’s waters and improved wastewater and stormwater treatment infrastructure. This progress has been built on strong partnerships between EPA and state, local, and tribal governments as well as community and environmental organizations, industry, and agriculture.

While places like Puget Sound remain fishable and swimmable, there is still work to be done to protect these resources. The EPA and its federal partners are coordinating their efforts through the Federal Puget Sound Task Force to better manage stormwater runoff and support the health of Puget Sound and the salmon population it supports.

“Over the past 50 years, the Clean Water Act has been a powerful tool to protect and restore water quality in Washington,” said Laura Watson, Director of the Washington Department of Ecology. “A strong partnership with the EPA helps us preserve our state’s waters and provide a healthy environment for our families, farms and communities.”

“The National Estuarine Program, created under the Clean Water Act, supports collaborative local action to restore our nation’s estuaries,” said Laura Blackmore, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Partnership. “The program has allowed us to work with hundreds of partners to create the 2022-2026 Agenda for Action, our plan to protect and restore Puget Sound. Together, we will restore habitat, improve water quality, protect our salmon and killer whales, increase climate resilience, and ensure human well-being. We celebrate the accomplishments of those who have gone before us and rededicate ourselves to upholding tribal treaty rights, environmental justice, and the health of Puget Sound for future generations.

“The funding we received from the EPA allowed us to conduct the research that led to the discovery of the chemical, 6PPD-Q, which is killing coho salmon in the rivers and streams of Puget Sound,” said Lisa Rozmyn, deputy director of the Washington Stormwater Center. “While there are still many questions regarding 6PPD-Q, EPA grants have also directly supported work to find a solution to this toxicological catastrophe: bioretention.”

“The Puget Sound region is leading the way in our commitment to building cities that are friendly to salmon and people,” said Jessie Israel, Conservation Director of The Nature Conservancy Puget Sound. “One of our biggest challenges is the presence of toxic chemicals in runoff, but the good news is that nature-based solutions are an effective tool to clean it up. With federal funding on the horizon , we can put in place the right infrastructure for the next 50 years of the Clean Water Act, ensuring clean water, clean air and a promise that people and nature can thrive together.

“Salmon-Safe is proud to be an EPA partner working throughout the region to address the stormwater impacts and water quality crisis that threatens marine life and endangers the survival of the salmon and killer whale,” said Ellen Southard, Director of Salmon-Safe Puget Sound. “Working with public and private sector partners, we are finding solutions to mitigate the polluted runoff that affects Puget Sound and increasing ocean acidification. This work is essential to sustaining our way of life for Indigenous peoples, their livelihoods and their spiritual well-being. It’s also an important part of protecting the 200,000 jobs in Washington’s commercial fishing and shellfish industry, which contributes more than $14 billion to the state’s economy.

“The Clean Water Act is critical to protecting the Salish Sea, tribal communities and everyone who lives in the area,” said Justin Parker, Executive Director of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. “Today we celebrate real progress, but in the future we face greater challenges from population growth, climate change and the pollution dumped into our food and water. As Puget Sound and coastal waters are beautiful and vibrant, they are also threatened by sewage treatment and the buildup of toxic substances.The EPA-Tribal partnership has made significant progress, but the environment is in crisis and our rights stem from treaties are under threat.We must build on our success, engage the science, and urgently advance the Clean Water Act protections for the next 50 years.

As EPA embarks on a tour celebrating the Clean Water Act, the agency is also working with partners to chart a course for the next fifty years of clean water progress. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act provided a historic investment in water infrastructure, including $12.7 billion through the State’s Clean Water Revolving Fund programs that were established by the 1987 amendments to clean water law. This funding is an important investment in the future of drinking water in the country. And our investments in improved and resilient infrastructure will have positive effects on our waterways for years to come.

On the way to 50e Anniversary of October 18, the tour will highlight the waters essential to healthy people, vibrant ecosystems, agricultural productivity and economic growth. Stops will include the Florida Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes, Cuyahoga River, San Francisco Bay, and more.

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