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Clean Water Act Impact

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In today’s society, it is universally accepted that the public deserves and expects clean water to drink, bathe, cook, swim, boat, fish, etc.

Before the Clean Water Act, it was an accepted practice to allow sanitary sewer overflows to dump untreated sewage into neighboring waterways as part of a sanitary sewer collection system.

Much of the experienced improvements over the past 50 years in water quality can be directly attributed to the Clean Water Act passed by the United States Congress in 1972. 

It is generally accepted that one impetus to the passage of the Clean Water Act was the publicity surrounding the Cuyahoga River burning in the City of Cleveland.

In the decades prior to the Clean Water Act, fresh clean water was difficult to find, especially within our waterways such as lakes, rivers, and streams. A strong contributing factor was sanitary sewer overflows. A sanitary sewer overflow is what it sounds like: when the flow of sewage gets too high in a given sewer pipe, the excess sewage overflows and is diverted and discharged into a receiving stream, river, or lake. Before the Clean Water Act, it was an accepted practice to allow sanitary sewer overflows to dump untreated sewage into neighboring waterways as part of a sanitary sewer collection system. 
 

A contributing factor to the incidence of sanitary sewer overflows was that the early pipe materials, pipe joints, and less than stringent inspection of underground utility installations provided an atmosphere that allowed excess water to enter the sanitary sewer collection system. During a wet weather event, stormwater (or rainwater) will enter through leaky pipes, leaky pipe joints, or through direct connections into the sanitary sewer collection system, overloading the sewer pipe with too much clean water that mixes with sewage. The decision regarding overloaded pipes was to either allow the raw sewage to back-up into a

resident’s basement or allow the overloaded pipes to dump the extra untreated sewage into the nearby stream, river, or lake. With the passage of the Clean Water Act, existing sanitary sewer overflows were deemed illegal and were to be eliminated from sanitary collection systems throughout the United States. The Clean Water Act also clarified the construction practices that could be used for sanitary sewer construction and made many previously “standard” sewer construction practices that contributed to sanitary sewer overflows illegal.