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Water: Liquid Assets

Liquid Assets 2000: Good News, Bad News

The Current Condition of Our Nation's Water Resources


On June 22, 1969, a stray spark ignited oil and debris on Ohio's Cuyahoga River, engulfing the river in flames. The burning of the Cuyahoga came to symbolize for this country a century of industrialization with little or no regard for environmental consequences. It also was one of the seminal events that gave rise to the environmental movement, the creation of EPA, and the passage of a series of laws designed to safeguard our environment, including the enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972.

In the 30 years since the Cuyahoga blaze, citizens, industries, states, and local governments, along with the federal government, have banded together to improve the quality of the nation's waters. Over a trillion dollars, much of it authorized under the Clean Water Act, has been spent to upgrade and expand wastewater treatment facilities. This commitment to clean water continues as industrial facilities and state and local governments make investments to improve treatment and reduce water quality problems. EPA and the states have written and enforced more than 70,000 permits limiting pollutants. These efforts to control "point source" discharges from municipalities, industry, and sewage plants have yielded tremendous results. The number of Americans served by adequate sewage treatment has more than doubled. Toxic releases from industry continue to decline. Due to this national commitment, the Cuyahoga and other once severely polluted waters are now thriving centers of healthy communities.

Despite tremendous progress, we still have much work to do. Nearly 40 percent of the nation's assessed waters are not meeting the standards states have set for them. Many of these problems will require expanded treatment of sewage or industrial discharges. But the majority of pollution problems are caused by runoff from city streets, rural areas, and other diffuse sources. As you will see in the pages that follow, polluted runoff poses a serious threat to the nation's liquid assets, including highly valued drinking water sources, beaches, recreational fisheries, coastal seafood nurseries, and popular vacation areas.





"For my entire career, I have believed very deeply that a strong economy and a clean environment go hand in hand."

--Vice President Al Gore



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