In 1969, an oil slick on the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire – the thirteenth fire of its kind in the river’s history. But this time, the fire ignited a national movement to protect our environment. In response, Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, setting a goal to restore and maintain clean water across the nation by 1985.

Nearly 50 years later, we have failed to fulfill the promise of clean water. In a state boasting some of the strongest water laws in the country, 95% of California’s waters remain too polluted to swim, fish, or drink. Underserved communities are hit the hardest, where local water is disproportionately likely to be contaminated and undrinkable.

The Russian River is contaminated with metals, bacteria, sediment, and nutrients that can harm our families & pets. And every summer we see harmful algal blooms during hot weather when water levels are low. 

The cause? Loopholes in permits that allow polluted discharges to continue unabated, a lack of strong enforcement of clean water laws that prevent them from actually meeting their goals, and insufficient resources dedicated toward cleaning up our waterways.  

This has to change, and California has the means to do it. This year, California Coastkeeper Alliance and Assemblymember Robert Rivas introduced the California Clean Water Act (Assembly Bill 377), which restores the original intent of the national Clean Water Act from 1972.

The bill will put our state on track to eliminate polluted waterways and make all California waters drinkable, swimmable, and fishable by 2050. It achieves this by closing permit loopholes, ensuring proper enforcement of clean water laws, and dedicating more resources toward restoring impaired waters.

It’s time to make good on our nation’s promise of clean water – 36 years past the original deadline – and California can lead the way.

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