Imagine it’s the first day of summer. You decide to take your young family to cool off at Lake Michigan. You pack a lunch, get the beach towels, load up your kids with sunblock and send them to play in the lake. After a day of summer fun, you arrive home and see that your daughter has a rash on her arm and your son is suddenly ill.
This could be the reality across the country if we allow the rollback of the Clean Water Act, a landmark law that is our first line of defense in ensuring the integrity of the Great Lakes as well as the rivers, streams and tributaries that feed them.
Under the Trump administration, the EPA is gutting protections for vast bodies of water that used to be covered under the Clean Water Act, effectively jeopardizing the safety of families and communities across the country. The EPA is even attempting to stop states from doing more to safeguard water supplies. Apparently, this administration only cares about state rights when it wants to allow polluters to destroy streams and pave over wetlands.
For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has set out to reduce or eliminate pollution in our nation’s waterways. These are the bodies of water that we use for recreation and that often feed into our drinking water supplies.
When a bipartisan majority in Congress passed the Clean Water Act and a Republican president signed it into law, our nation’s leaders understood that we could no longer ignore dangerously polluted waters. Decades of unchecked dumping of untreated sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff had led to two-thirds of the country’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters becoming unsafe.
Today, our country takes for granted a United States that boasts far cleaner waterways than decades prior. We must never forget that this bipartisan law was an incredible success and that today, the Clean Water Act’s industry-specific regulations prevent more than 700 billion pounds of toxic pollutants every year from being dumped into our nation’s waters. The rate of wetlands loss has dramatically decreased compared to the pre-Clean Water Act era.
We’ve made great progress but there’s more work to be done. We must remain vigilant in protecting our clean water and do all we can to support and strengthen this law.
Millions of Americans live in communities that do not have access to reliable safe drinking water. Many live in areas where water is unaffordable. Children are attending schools where their drinking water is contaminated with lead. Instead of tearing down the guardrails — such as the Clean Water Act — that can keep our water safe for millions, we should be building up more support to ensure clean water everywhere.
The Clean Water Act provides a strong foundation that should be strengthened. Yet the Trump administration is relentless in its zeal to do the exact opposite: weaken and damage this seminal law so that polluters can profit, while Americans suffer the consequences of unsafe water.
As co-founder of the Environmental Justice Caucus and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works’ Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, which has jurisdiction over the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, I am seeking to make dramatic and historic investments right here at home to protect public health and achieve even cleaner water.
The time has come for Congress to make dramatic investments in the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, a program that helps states with infrastructure projects that are key to managing wastewater treatment. I am also working across the aisle to provide more resources for rural, tribal and frontline communities so that they can better manage their wastewater and drinking water utilities. These resources include access to federal grants, loans and technical assistance.
Our nation’s commitment to clean water began with the Clean Water Act, but more we’ve got a long way to go to truly deliver on the legacy started 47 years ago. Healthy water means healthier families, communities and economies.
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth is a Democrat from Illinois.