On the Clean Water Act’s 50th Birthday, What Should We Celebrate? — The Revelator

Ohio’s Cuyahoga River Water Trail passes through the national park.
NPS / D.J. Reiser

Click the link to read the article on the Revelator website (Rona Kobell):

Some rivers and lakes wouldn’t be swimmable today without this critical law. But it could use a refresh to help meet our current challenges.

The Clean Water Act came to life the same year I did, kicking and screaming and full of promise. Now we’re both turning 50 — me and the law formally known as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972.

The half-century mark is a good time to take stock of one’s performance, and it’s fair to say that, like me, the Clean Water Act has some wrinkles and blemishes. As a longtime environmental journalist covering the Chesapeake Bay, I’ve seen the Act struggle as it reached middle age. At times, it hasn’t been all it could be, or all it should be.

It tackled the easy problems first, like factory pollution and sewage discharges, while putting off the harder lifts like agriculture and stormwater. And it’s become weak in the face of problems it doesn’t regulate, like manure runoff from small operations. It can seem, well, tired. As if it’s lost its fight, its verve, and it’s still following routines that don’t quite get the job done. We’re still wrangling over what waters fall under its jurisdiction, and what we define as a waterway. At 50, we should know what we are, right?

But I’ve seen major improvements that wouldn’t have happened without the law. So even if a blowout party is unwarranted (it’s still Covid times, after all), I think the Act is entitled to at least a nice glass of clean H20.

Fifty years after its passage, the Clean Water Act has restored fisheries in many rivers, lakes and estuaries. In Chicago, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga and Washington, D.C., residents can kayak on rivers that were once so fetid no one would dare go near them. Bostonians have taken clean water a step further; they can swim in the Charles. Musicians Randy Newman and Michael Stipe immortalized the burning smell of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River in their songs; today, largely thanks to the Act, the river has a state scenic river designation and has become a centerpiece of Cleveland’s downtown.

Kayakers on the Cuyahoga River in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Photo: Erik Drost (CC BY 2.0)

With its cousin, the Clean Air Act, regulators forced polluters to stop emitting nitrogen, phosphorus, mercury and other pollutants into the air. Steel production, coal mining, oil and gas drilling, nuclear power generation — all these industries were put on notice. If they polluted the water, they wouldn’t be in business long. The government and citizens could file suit under the Clean Water Act. Not wanting to face the negative publicity or the fines, many industries worked with regulators to clean themselves up.

The Clean Water Act doesn’t celebrate its 50-year-milestone alone. It had help. On June 14, 1972 — the day I was born — the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of the pesticide DDT, which was killing eagles and ospreys in massive numbers. That October, Congress passed the Marine Mammal Protection Act to safeguard ocean mammals from poaching and other threats.

Thanks to these efforts, Chesapeake Bay now has more nesting pairs of bald eagles than any other place on the U.S. East Coast. The nation’s bird soars at Conowingo Dam, a power-generating station on the Susquehanna River, and at Aberdeen Proving Ground, which was once on the nation’s list of most hazardous sites for its legacy of pollution from munitions testing. Crabbers ply the waters from Baltimore to Norfolk; oyster dredgers work steadily in the Tangier Sound.

No species could thrive without clean water — nor could the fishers whose livelihoods depend on it. Aquaculture, too, has taken a hold in the Chesapeake. The most important consideration for where to locate an oyster farm or hatchery? The water’s salinity, and its cleanliness.

A bald eagle works on a mid-day fish along a dock pile at Mill Creek in Hampton, Virginia. Photo: Aileen Devlin/Virginia Sea Grant (CC BY-ND 2.0)

I’ve long admired the fortitude of the bipartisan Congress that overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto and passed the law to forever protect the waters of the United States. It wasn’t the first law to do it — the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 made it illegal to discharge refuse of any kind into navigable waters, and it later required federal permits to put structures in the water. But the Clean Water Act expanded protections to all waterways.

Monumental as it was, though, now the Clean Water Act at 50 needs a bit of a refresh, since the pollution it’s meant to stop has changed. In the Chesapeake Bay, our problem today is largely not industrial smokestacks but rather the detritus of how we live our lives. The Act doesn’t regulate these “nonpoint sources,” as we call them: the pesticides coming off our lawns, the motor oil and mercury in our stormwater, the nitrogen and phosphorus from the manure that farmers apply to their fields. We’ve made huge strides in sewage treatment, in standards for nitrogen emissions that end up in our waterways from cars, and in regulations for large animal facilities. But we have yet to figure out how to regulate the pollution that doesn’t come out of a tailpipe or a smokestack.

Another area that needs improvement: EPA officials regularly pass most of the Act’s enforcement to states, and states chronically understaff inspection units. Earlier this year Maryland Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles promised the legislature he would ramp up efforts, but only after lawmakers reviewed reports of how much the situation had deteriorated. If enforcement is lousy in a blue state bordering Washington, D.C., imagine how it looks in other states. All of them need to look at the teeth in their laws.

Laws like the Clean Water Act are good at stopping bad things, but they’re not always up to date for allowing good things. And that’s what we need now, whether it’s large-scale wind turbines in our oceans or manmade islands to protect crucial habitat for shorebirds. We need to eliminate barriers to beneficial uses of natural material, such as living shorelines, and not make the process of farming oysters so onerous. We need developers to understand that filling a wetland and creating another is nothing like no-net-loss; it’s a capitulation of everything we hold dear. Water ecosystems take decades to evolve and grow; laws that protect them must take into account the importance of legacy plants that hold roots together and protect land and water.

Despite the wear and tear, the Clean Water Act is holding up. The women’s magazines keep telling us 50 is still young and vibrant. And I hope that’s true for this law. There’s a lot more to do.

Large differences among the recent increases in the cost of powering gasoline, diesel, and electric vehicles — Green Car Congress

Leaf charging in Edwards September 30, 2021.

Click the link to read the article on the Green Car Congress website (Michael Sivak). Here’s an excerpt:

This post examines the recent changes in the costs of powering gasoline, diesel, and electric vehicles. The expectation was that the cost of electricity had recently increased much less than the costs of gasoline and diesel. The reason is that, in the United States, oil is used to generate less than 1% of electricity. Therefore, the recent jump in oil prices (because of the war in Ukraine), should have only a relatively small indirect effect on the cost of electricity.

The raw data—the retail prices of regular gasoline, on-highway diesel, and residential electricity—came from the Energy Information Administration. The gasoline and diesel prices are already available through May 2022, while the electricity prices are currently available only through March 2022.

The table below shows all available average monthly prices for 2022. Also shown are the calculated changes for each month compared with the January prices.

Average monthly prices for 2022. Graphic credit: Michael Sivak

Drought news (June 2, 2022): “Rain and mountain snow was also widespread in #Colorado recently, leading to improving conditions in both the Rocky Mountains and high plains”

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

High Plains

Large-scale improvements to drought conditions and abnormal dryness took place in the High Plains region this week, where widespread rain and mountain snow fell as several storm systems moved through the region. Extreme drought was removed from central Kansas and northeast Nebraska, where soil moisture improved and short- and long-term precipitation deficits lessened. Widespread improvements were also made in South Dakota, where precipitation deficits improved. Rain and mountain snow was also widespread in Colorado recently, leading to improving conditions in both the Rocky Mountains and high plains. Heavy precipitation amounts fell in northern Wyoming and southern Montana, leading to a large swath of improved conditions. Lingering long-term abnormal dryness in western North Dakota also continued to wane, while moderate drought was removed entirely from the west end of the state after precipitation this week. Despite the improving drought conditions, agricultural problems continued in the region. Winter wheat harvest potential in Kansas was reduced by over 25%, while conditions are too wet in parts of Montana and the Dakotas for planting spring wheat…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 31, 2022.


Localized heavy precipitation fell across maily the northern half of the West region this week, leading to a few areas of improvements. Drought areas in southwest and northeast Oregon, central Idaho, northern Nevada, and northern Utah saw some local improvements as drought indices responded to recent precipitation. As mentioned in the High Plains section, widespread improvements were made in southern Montana after heavy precipitation fell there, with localized amounts of 5 inches or more. Recent precipitation also allowed for some improvements in northeast Montana. Despite these improvements, widespread severe, extreme, and some exceptional drought continued across the West. Impacts from the widespread drought include reduced grazing for cattle in New Mexico due to wildfire closures in national forests and hydropower production concerns at reservoirs in Nevada and California due to very low water levels…


Widespread drought conditions continued in western portions of Oklahoma, Texas, southern Texas, and southern Louisiana this week, though some improvements were noted in Texas and Oklahoma. Recent heavy rainfall from far northern Oklahoma into parts of south-central Oklahoma and west-central and central Texas lessened precipitation deficits enough to allow for improved drought conditions. The ongoing drought area over western Oklahoma and the eastern Texas Panhandle is now long-term, reflecting the impact of recent rain events. Tuesday night’s thunderstorms in the Southern Plains was not accounted for on this week’s map, as it fell after the Tuesday morning cutoff. This will be considered for next week’s map. Despite recent rainfall, problems continued with winter wheat and cotton growth in the southern Great Plains. Finally, a small area of short-term drought in southeast Tennessee was removed after heavy rain this week…

Looking Ahead

Through the evening of Monday, June 6, the National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center is forecasting moderate precipitation amounts in parts of the Northwest, with some mountainous areas forecasted to see over an inch of precipitation. Dry conditions are expected to continue in the Southwest. Widespread rain exceeding one-half inch is expected to have fallen across northern Texas, including parts of the Panhandle, and much of Oklahoma. Elsewhere in the Great Plains, some precipitation is forecast to fall from southwest North Dakota southward, with amounts generally varying between 0.25 and 0.75 inches. Heavier amounts are possible along the Minnesota/Iowa border. In the eastern U.S., generally drier conditions are expected, though some parts of the Ohio Valley and Northeast and the Appalachians are expected to receive at least a half-inch of rain. Finally, a tropical disturbance is forecast to move across southern Florida, which may deliver rain amounts from 3 to 10 inches, especially across the southern half of the Florida Peninsula. For the latest on this system, please refer to forecasts from your local National Weather Service office and any advisories from the National Hurricane Center.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending May 31, 2022

It’s All Linked to #ClimateChange — USGS

Click the link to view the graphic on the USGS website.

Climate change interacts with droughts in many ways. Some regions are experiencing warmer, drier conditions than they have in the past, leading to less rainfall (meteorological drought) or snowpack (snow drought). Over time, this can cause water sources like lakes, streams, and underground aquifers to dry up (hydrological drought). This, in turn, can lead to water shortages in human communities (socioeconomic drought) and agricultural systems (agricultural drought). It can also damage plant and animal communities in the region (ecological drought). Click the graphic for a larger view.