How did our water get so dirty?
In 1972, the United States legislature passed
the Clean Water Act
due to a crisis in the nation’s water purity. The purpose of
the act was to restore the chemical, biological, and physical
nature of our nation’s waterways that had been so damaged by
pollution. The goal of the act was that, by 1985, no more pollutants
would be discharged into the water supply and all of our nation’s
rivers, streams, and lakes would be fishable and swimmable once
more. Every city was required to install a water treatment plant,
and every industry was required to use the best available technology
to limit the amount of pollutants that entered water sources
(Outwater, 1996). Under these stringent demands, water quality
began to improve slightly. Still, almost two decades after the
year of supposed goal fulfillment, about a third of the nation’s
waterways continue to be polluted.
There is no doubt that industrial sites have cleaned up their
act. They would no longer be in business today if they had not.
So, why is our nation’s water still so dirty? The answer is
very simple. Water follows a natural cycle. It moves from the
rain to the mountaintops, through streams and rivers to the
sea, and then to the clouds once more. In the United States,
the natural water cycle has been changed in a number of ways.
Through dredging, damming, and tampering with or eliminating
the ecological niches where water is able to clean itself, we
have changed the pathways that water takes through the American
landscape, greatly benefiting agriculture and the American economy.
In the long run, we have ended up with dirty, impure water.
Water treatment remains as the best available technology we
have to rectify this problem.
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