In the late 1960s and early 1970s, our nation’s waters were in trouble. Lake Erie was virtually dead, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire, and the Androscoggin River in Maine was so polluted it peeled paint on nearby buildings. Many of America’s waters had become little more than lifeless, open sewers. In a move that seems quaint by today’s political standards, members of both parties came together in Congress to pass the Clean Water Act (Act) in 1972 in numbers strong enough to override President Richard Nixon’s veto of the legislation. The purpose of the Act is “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” with the lofty goal “that the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985.” 33 U.S.C. § 1251. The Act regulates the point source discharge of pollutants into navigable waters and provides for implementation through a cooperative relationship between the federal government and the states.
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