American Society of Civil Engineers

The History of the Clean Water Act

by Ken Kirk Dee, (Executive Director, National Association of Clean Water Agencies, 1816 Jefferson Place, NW, Washington, DC 20036-2505 E-mail:
Section: Engineering History and Heritage, pp. 1-1, (doi:

     Access full text
     Permissions for Reuse  

Document type: Conference Proceeding Paper - Abstract Only
Part of: Impacts of Global Climate Change
Abstract: America’s Clean Water Future ... The Need for a Federal Re-Commitment As a direct result of the Clean Water Act’s Construction Grants Program, the United States now enjoys perhaps the most advanced system of regional or "area-wide" wastewater treatment entities in the world. Secondary treatment is now the norm and many treatment plants have progressed beyond secondary treatment to advanced treatment technologies. Waterways that once were declared dead have been revitalized. Simply stated, the Grants Program was the most successful environmental public works program in the nation’s history. It is no wonder that those of us who experienced this period of history not only understand but believe in the great accomplishments that can be achieved through a strong federal-state-local partnership. At the same time, we are now concerned about yet another looming water quality crisis directly attributable to the weakening of this historic partnership before the job is complete. Despite the tremendous progress made during the years of the Grants Program (1973–1991), it is clear that we are again losing ground in the battle to protect water quality. We are still far from the "zero discharge" and swimmable/fishable goals of the CWA, with over 40% of the nation’s waters remaining impaired. Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Congressional Budget Office, and the Government Accountability Office all performed their own independent studies of the nation’s water infrastructure funding needs. Their estimates show a startling consensus of an estimated gap of $350 billion to $600 billion dollars over the next 20 years to repair and replace aging pipes and treatment works. The presentation will explore how to overcome this funding gap, including the concepts of increased rates, asset management and dedicated federal funding via a trust fund. The presentation will also focus on what the future will look like absent a meaningful federal/state/local funding partnership.

ASCE Subject Headings:
Clean Water Act
Water policy