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Water: Liquid Assets

Liquid Assets 2000: Executive Summary

photo of couple watching a windjammer

Each summer millions of Americans head to the water--a lake, an oceanfront, or their favorite river--for a few days of relaxation and recreation. Billions of dollars will be spent this summer on food, lodging, and fuel, as well as special equipment, licenses, and services, so people can enjoy themselves on and around the water. But throughout the country, our economy and our summertime traditions are affected by closed beaches, fewer fish to catch, and other casualties of dirty water.

We have made tremendous progress cleaning up America's waters over the past 30 years. The nation's significant investment to upgrade sewage treatment plants and minimize industrial discharges has removed billions of pounds of pollutants from our waterways and doubled the number of waters safe for fishing and swimming.

Despite this resounding success, we still face significant challenges. An overwhelming majority of Americans--218 million--live within 10 miles of a polluted lake, river, stream, or coastal area. States have identified almost 300,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 5 million acres of lakes that do not meet state water quality goals. Many of these waters are not considered safe for swimming and are unable to support healthy fish or other aquatic life.

The U.S. Economy Depends on Clean Water

  • The U.S. Economy Depends on Clean Water A third of all Americans visit coastal areas each year, making a total of 910 million trips while spending about $44 billion.

  • Water used for irrigating crops and raising livestock helps American farmers produce and sell $197 billion worth of food and fiber. Farmers understand the importance of water, especially in the drought conditions many are facing this year. Conversely, farmers in North Carolina were confronted with severe Hurricane Floyd floods that overran manure lagoons on hundreds of North Carolina hog farms.

  • The commercial fishing and shellfishing industries need clean wetlands and coastal waters to stay in business. Every year, the Great Lakes, Gulf of Mexico, and coastal areas produce more than 10 billion pounds of fish and shellfish.

  • A Money magazine survey found that clean water and clean air are two of the most important factors Americans consider in choosing a place to live.

  • Manufacturers use about nine trillion gallons of fresh water every year. The soft drink manufacturing industry alone uses more than 12 billion gallons of water annually to produce products valued at almost $58 billion.

The Costs of Dirty Water

Our economy depends on clean water; we all pay when it is polluted. Contamination of drinking water sources means higher health risks and increased treatment costs. Closed beaches and contaminated rivers mean lost revenue for local businesses that serve tourists, anglers, and recreationists. Swimmers at polluted beaches and lakes face possible threats from viruses and bacteria.

Each year Americans pay for dirty water:

  • In 1998 about one-third of the 1,062 beaches reporting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had at least one health advisory or closing.

  • In 1998 2,506 fish consumption advisories or bans were issued in areas where fish were too contaminated to eat.

  • Seventeen states reported 37 recreational water outbreaks caused by microorganisms in the latest (1995-1996) available data from the Centers for Disease Control.

  • Currently EPA estimates that at least a half-million cases of illness annually can be attributed to microbial contamination in drinking water.

Achieving Cleaner Waters Across America

photo of a little girl drinking water from a hose

Over the next decade, we must continue efforts to reduce pollution from industry, sewage treatment plants, and polluted runoff. The goal of clean, safe water will require state and locally led efforts to identify and clean up the lakes, rivers, and streams that are still polluted. Using flexible, common-sense guidelines backed by tough state water quality standards and driven by partnerships between government and private sector organizations at every level, this generation of Americans can be the first in more than a century to enjoy fishable, swimmable, and drinkable water in every community.

Liquid Assets 2000: America's Water Resources at a Turning Point provides a snapshot of the economic value of clean water, the problems we face in the new millennium, and the actions we must take to protect and restore the nation's water resources. This report explores the current condition of the nation's water resources and demonstrates the link between clean water and a strong economy by focusing on specific businesses and activities that rely on clean water.

There are a myriad of exciting efforts under way to help improve water quality in communities throughout the country. America's water resources are at a turning point. The choice of clean water for all Americans is ours.


"Every child deserves to grow up with water that is pure to drink, lakes that are safe for swimming, rivers that are teeming with fish. We have to act now to combat pollution challenges with new protections to give all our children the gift of clean, safe water in the 21st century."

-- President William J. Clinton


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