America's Troubled Waters

Source: U.S. PIRG, Troubled Waters: An Analysis of Clean Water Act Compliance, 2006.

Since 1972, the Clean Water Act has made significant strides in cleaning up U.S. waterways. Unfortunately, the law’s goals of eliminating the discharge of pollutants into waterways by 1985 and making all U.S. waters safe for fishing, swimming, and other uses by 1983 have not been met. Today, more than 40% of U.S. waterways are unsafe for these basic activities. Among the findings included in a 2006 study by U.S. PIRG, Troubled Waters: An Analysis of Clean Water Act Compliance:

  • Nationally, 62% of all major industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution into U.S. waterways than their permits allow at least once during the 18-month period studied.
  • Major facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permits, on average, exceeded their permit limits by about 275%, or almost four times the allowed amount.
  • Nationally, 436 major facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permit limits for at least half (9 of the 18) monthly reporting periods between July 1, 2003, and December 31, 2004. Thirty-five facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits during every monthly reporting period.
  • The ten U.S. states that allowed the highest percentage of major facilities to exceed their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once are West Virginia, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Utah, the District of Columbia, and Maine.
  • According to EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, polluters discharged more than 221.8 million pounds of toxic chemicals into our waterways in 2003 alone.
  • Approximately 39% of our rivers, 46% of our lakes, and 51% of our estuaries are still too polluted for safe fishing or swimming.
  • In March 2006, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a report describing the occurrence of pesticides in streams and groundwater over the ten years spanning 1992–2001. USGS found at least one pesticide in all of the streams studied.
  • Pollution caused nearly 20,000 beach closings in 2004, the highest level in 15 years.
  • In 2004, 31 states had statewide fish consumption advisories in place because of toxic pollution.
  • At least 853 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into U.S. waterways every year. U.S. sewer systems are aging; by 2025, sewage pollution will reach the highest levels in U.S. history without significant investment in wastewater treatment infrastructure.

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