Study Reveals Clean Water Act Improves U.S. Waterways

Oct. 12, 2018

Research found there was an increase in water quality due to the Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act has reduced pollution in U.S. waterways, according to research from UC Berkeley and Iowa State University professors.

The Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into U.S. surface waters. According to The Daily Californian, the research found there was an increase in water quality due in part to the Clean Water Act. It also found the number of rivers safe for fishing has increased by 12% from 1972 to 2001.

“What is so impressive about this research is that it is a clever application of big data to document something that we all hope, that innovative environmental protection can not only safeguard the environment, but actively lead to its restoration,” said Daniel Kammen, professor energy and chair of campus Energy and Resource Group at UC Berkeley said to The Daily Californian.

20 economic studies to determine the Clean Water Act’s costs and benefits were reviewed by UC Berkeley Agricultural and Resource Economics Associate professor Joseph Shapiro and Iowa State University Economics professor David Keiser. Their data analysis showed the Act reduced water pollution, but the economic studies show its costs outweigh the benefits. Catherine Kling, professor of environmental, energy, and resource economics at Cornell University also collaborated on one of the studies, according to the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University.

According to CARD, the federal government passed a series of amendments known as the Clean Water Act in 1972. The Clean Water Act has since become one of the most expensive pieces of environmental legislation in U.S. history, totaling more than $1 trillion in expenses, CARD reports.

“Even answers to basic questions such as how water pollution has changed since 1972, and how the Clean Water Act contributed to these changes, have been absent,” Shapiro said to CARD.

Both researchers and policy makers have noted a lack of empirical evidence about the effectiveness of the regulations.

“The data required to answer these questions have been notoriously hard to compile, it took several Freedom of Information Act requests and years of effort,” Keiser said to CARD.

The data collected by Keiser and Shapiro led them to three conclusions: water pollution concentrations have fallen substantially in the U.S.; the Clean Water Act’s municipal grant improved water quality downstream of treatment plants; and municipal grants created increases in house values.

“The benefits we were able to measure were substantially lower than the corresponding costs,” Keiser said to CARD. “Surprisingly, this is consistent with other studies that find small benefit-to-cost ratios for water pollution regulations.”

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