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Vice President Launces New Strategy to Protect America's Waters

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Council on Environmental Quality

Office Of The Vice President

SATURDAY, October 18, 1997


On 25th Anniversary of Clean Water Act,
Vice President Celebrates Successes, Cites Challenges Ahead

WASHINGTON -- Twenty-five years after passage of the Clean Water Act,Vice President Al Gore today (10/18) praised it as one of our nation's most important environmental laws and launched a new strategy to address clean water issues of the next generation.

"Twenty-five years ago today, America had a change of heart -- and a change of course," the Vice President said. "Instead of polluting our waters, we decided to clean them. Since the passage of the Clean Water Act, we have stopped billions of pounds of pollution from flowing into our rivers, lakes, and streams. We ve doubled the number of waters safe for swimming and fishing.

"For all our success, there are still dangerous run-offs of toxins and pollutants in our streams. Many communities don t have the knowledge or the resources to fully protect their water, and sometimes the wrong kind of development threatens our hard-won progress. We need to recommit ourselves to the vision of the Clean Water Act -- and we need new action to move it forward," the Vice President said.

In 1972, America's rivers, lakes, and coastal waters were under siege. The Potomac River was clogged with algae blooms and unsafe to swim. Lake Erie was dying. The Cuyohoga River was so polluted it burst into flames. Many rivers and beaches were little more than open sewers.

In 25 years, the Clean Water Act has stopped billions of pounds of pollution from entering rivers, lakes, and streams, and doubled the number of waterways that are safe for swimming and fishing. The Vice President released today a report illustrating, through 25 case histories, a national success story in restoring the nation's waterways.

And while achievements under the Clean Water Act have been remarkable, the job is not done, the Vice President said. Three major challenges remain:

Strengthening public health protection. The health of our children continues to be threatened by exposure to harmful organisms in our waters. Fish in many of our waters still contain unacceptable levels of mercury, PCBs and other toxins that imperil the most vulnerable among us if eaten.

Preventing polluted runoff. Runoff from cities and rural areas is one of the largest remaining sources of water pollution. Nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers has been linked to harmful marine organisms that threaten economies dependent on recreational or commercial fisheries.

Ensuring community-based watershed management. Communities need the help of Federal agencies to ensure that water quality is protected in a comprehensive way that recognizes all the needs of the broader ecosystem. This approach promotes coordinated action by different agencies, effective partnerships with landowners and affected industries, and more cost-effective pollution control strategies.

To help find answers to these problems, the Vice President directed federal departments and agencies to develop, within 90 days, an aggressive plan of action covering 11 high-priority areas. He outlined this new strategy to address clean water issues of the next generation in a memorandum to the heads of federal departments and agencies.

He also challenged Congress to help strengthen the Clean Water Act, especially for control of nonpoint sources of pollution, and to abandon proposals such as recent "property rights" bills (H.R. 1534 and S. 1204) that would hamper the ability of state and local governments to protect water quality.

Four years ago, the administration advanced a series of principles to strengthen the Clean Water Act. The 104th Congress moved in the opposite direction, advancing a "Dirty Water Bill" that would have weakened this landmark law. However, under the leadership of the President and Vice President and with overwhelming public support for the Clean Water Act, those efforts were defeated.

"Protecting our water is one of the deepest obligations we have -- to ourselves, to our children, and to our future. Let this day mark not just an anniversary, but a renewal of that obligation," the Vice President said.

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