Last October, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University organized the Considering the Clean Water Act conference in Racine, Wis. Hosted by The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, 30 water experts from across the nation met and discussed key issues preventing the achievement of the Clean Water Act (CWA) goals first established nearly 40 years ago.
“As we approach the 40th anniversary of the first Earth Day, I have both pride in our accomplishments under the Clean Water Act but also frustration with ongoing challenges that may not be addressed well under the current law,” said WEF President Paul Freedman. “Despite being landmark legislation in the 1970s that led to significant achievements, the Clean Water Act is now a 20th century tool trying to address 21st century problems. As a nation, we must reexamine how to better address water quality issues to meet our current and future needs.”
Conference participants began by recognizing past successes of the CWA as well as the shortcomings and limitations of the existing law, followed by a focused discussion on viable potential solutions and key considerations in moving forward. Some ideas that emerged from this event included market-based solutions such as water pollution trading, adopting a more targeted and holistic watershed approach, implementing a new generation of technology-based controls for both point and non-point sources, utilizing integrated water management, reasonable assurance for non-point source implementation and the need for adequate funding.
The workshop concluded with the identification of four reform options, including updating the CWA to improve existing tools; expanding the CWA beyond traditional applications; updating other relevant statutory mechanisms to better address water quality; and creating new legal or regulatory tools to target non-point sources or integrated watershed restoration and management.