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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

25th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act Minneapolis, Minnesota

10/17/1997
                 Carol M. Browner, Administrator
             U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
                Remarks Prepared for Delivery
           25th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act
                    Minneapolis, Minnesota
                       October 17, 1997


     Thank you, Senator Wellstone.  Let me commend you and thank you for your many
efforts on behalf of protecting public health and the environment -- both here in Minnesota and
throughout the country.


     I am delighted to join you, Mayor Sharon Sayles-Belton and Congressman Marty Sabo
here in the great city of Minneapolis.


     I want to pay special tribute, as well, to Marie Zeller of Clean Water Action and her
colleagues in this region's environmental community.  Without their dedication, commitment and
hard work -- year after year -- we would not be standing here today and sharing this spirit of
accomplishment and optimism.  


     This place, on this stretch of the Upper Mississippi River, is an ideal spot to mark the 25th
Anniversary of the Clean Water Act.


     Here, we can take stock of the great strides this country has made over the past quarter-century in addressing the serious pollution and public health problems that affected our rivers, our
lakes and our coastal waters.  We can reflect on how far we have come in a relatively short time.


     Before the Clean Water Act, water quality in many, many parts of our country was simply
deplorable.


     Many of America's great waterways -- so vital to our health, our commerce and our very
identity as a nation -- had become places to avoid.


     The Hudson River contained bacteria levels of 170 times the safe limit.  The Cuyahoga
River in Ohio actually caught fire.


    And the Upper Mississippi -- this father of waters, this national treasure -- was in serious
decline.


     There was a reason for this.  Raw sewage and industrial waste was routinely dumped into
rivers, lakes and coastal waters.  There was simply no method in place of effectively controlling
the pollution that was fouling America's waters.


     But, 25 years ago, the American people said "enough."

     The Clean Water Act passed both Houses of Congress by overwhelming, bipartisan
margins.  And America finally got serious about addressing the pollution threat and restoring the
quality of the nation's waters.


     By any measure, this landmark legislation has been hugely successful.  Once-dead rivers,
lakes and estuaries are now pulsating with life.  People are returning to them -- to swim, to fish,
to ply the waters in their boats and to relax on their shores.  Across the nation, urban waterfront
areas are coming back.


     Under President Clinton, we have sought to continue this progress -- by investing billions
of dollars to help communities protect water quality, and by fighting attempts to weaken the
Clean Water Act.


     Right here in the Twin Cities, you have a perfect example of how successful this
legislation has been.  Pollution from large industries has been greatly reduced.  Funding made
possible by the Clean Water Act has enabled communities in the watershed to fully treat their
sewage.


     Wildlife is returning to the river -- bald eagles, peregrine falcons, cormorants and great
blue herons -- as well as minks and other fish-eating mammals -- are back in the Twin Cities metro
area.


     This "City of Water" once again as a river worthy of that name.

     But the Upper Mississippi also offers us a lesson that the job is not done -- not by any
stretch of the imagination.


     Serious pollution threats remain -- from urban, rural and industrial sources.  Despite the
vast improvements, water quality is still impaired on 82 percent of the river from the headwaters
to the Quad Cities.  Many stretches are still too polluted for safe swimming.  And eating the fish
you catch is deemed safe on only 11 percent of the upper river.


     Nationwide, a third of America's waters are still too polluted fishing and swimming.

     That's just not acceptable.  We have a great deal of work yet to do.      

     In some respect, the work we've done over the past 25 years -- reducing pollution from
large industrial sources and strengthening our sewage treatment -- has been the easy part of the
job.  When open sewer pipes and factory pipes pumped waste into our rivers, it was much easier
to know what to do.


     But today, in the majority of the country's watersheds, the biggest source of water
pollution is not factories but runoff from a variety of urban, suburban and rural sources.


     The solutions to that problem are not as simple.  

     How can we respond?  By joining together -- citizens' groups, government agencies,
community organizations.  By working together -- to "adopt" and clean up local watersheds.  By
making tough decisions and securing tough commitments to address the problems that are still out
there.  By educating people about what causes pollution and the steps they can take to prevent it.


     On that note, let me commend the work that is going on right here in Minnesota -- the
community groups and river protection groups that working to develop innovative ways to
address the problem of polluted runoff -- the businesspeople and farmers who are part of the
dialogue -- and the state and local agencies that are determined to find creative solutions.


     Let me acknowledge the efforts of Senator Wellstone, Congressman Sabo, Governor
Carlson and other leaders who have been working together to find ways to reduce agricultural
runoff in the Minnesota River basin.


     We hope that your efforts will show that it is possible to find workable, cost-effective
ways to continue to improve the quality of our waters -- and to ensure our future economic
progress, as well.


     Some people might say "we can't have cleaner water because it's just too expensive.  It
can't be done."


     But to say that is to ignore the history of the Clean Water Act -- and the fact that those
voices have always been proved wrong.


     Today, as we celebrate the nation's achievements under that historic legislation, let us also
use our past success as the cornerstone of our future progress.  Let us redouble our efforts to get
the job done, and to ensure a safe and healthy environment for our children and their children to
come.


     Thank you.  And now we are happy to entertain any questions from members of the press.