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Don't take water for granted.

Byline: GUEST VIEWPOINT By Doug Keeler For The Register-Guard

The Clean Water Act, one of our nation's most important environmental laws, celebrated its 35th anniversary in October. The act was an ambitious piece of legislation designed to improve water quality and protect public health.

During the mid-20th century, the nation's waterways were in a precarious state. Oceans, rivers, and lakes were polluted. Ohio's Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, bringing national attention to the poor condition of waterways. The primary goal of the Clean Water Act was to make U.S. waters fishable and swimmable.

Enormous progress has been made in 35 years. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, more than 60 percent of the nation's waters have healed enough to support fishing, swimming and other uses. The act has led to state water quality standards, a national discharge permitting system for municipalities and industries, requirements for industries and businesses to treat and monitor their wastewater before it is discharged to a community wastewater system, state and local funding and investment in wastewater infrastructure, and community watershed planning - all in the name of improved water quality. Today, the act's effect on wastewater treatment is considered one of the major achievements in modern American public health.

Here in Oregon, the need for the act and its benefits were just as significant. Our own Willamette River was dying in the 1960s. Agricultural, industrial and human waste turned the river into a serious health, environmental and economic problem. The condition was so severe that Tom McCall successfully ran for governor in 1966 advocating an ambitious plan to clean up the Willamette. In 1969, legislation created a comprehensive program to curb pollution in the river.

Three years later, the same year the Clean Water Act was passed, the cover of National Geographic magazine featured "A River Restored: Oregon's Willamette."

The Clean Water Act encouraged regional, rather than local, wastewater management. Federal grants helped fund regional wastewater facilities. As a result, Lane County, Eugene and Springfield formed the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission and a regional wastewater facility was built for the Eugene-Springfield area.

The initial investment successfully served the community, and the Willamette River, for more than 20 years. Collaborative planning has provided for reinvestment of $144 million over the next 20 years to serve our wastewater needs through the year 2025. Expanded capacity and improved performance will enable us to meet increasingly strict water quality standards, protecting the Willamette River. Through the Clean Water Act, Oregon has some of the most advanced wastewater treatment in the country, and with the planned improvements, our regional facility will continue to be one of the most advanced in the state.

Continuing efforts help maintain high water quality standards and address the goals of the Clean Water Act. Both Eugene and Springfield have successful programs that strive to keep pollution out of the storm-water system, and consequently out of our streams and rivers. Both cities have programs to assist businesses and residents in adopting practices that promote clean water. Local businesses and industries have stepped up to work with our pollution prevention programs to reduce toxins in our environment. Our community's residents are using water more efficiently, employing green landscaping techniques, and disposing responsibly of pet wastes.

Research shows that water quality tops the list of environmental issues that concern Oregonians

So with all this great progress, is there anything left to do? Challenges remain. Learn more about what is happening in our community, and how your everyday actions can help keep local waterways clean. Water is a precious resource. It needs our time and attention, and investment by our national, state and local communities to preserve the spirit and work of the Clean Water Act for another 35 years and beyond.

Doug Keeler is president of the Metropolitan Wastewater Management Commission. He prepared this column with Faye Stewart, chairman of the Lane County Board of Commissioners; Sidney Leiken, mayor of Springfield, and Kitty Piercy, mayor of Eugene.
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Title Annotation:Commentary
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Nov 8, 2007
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