Carnegie Mellon University
October 30, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon University's David Dzombak Reviews Impact of Clean Water Act

Clean Water Act Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Restoring Nation's Water Integrity

Contact: Chriss Swaney / 412-268-5776 /

DzombakPITTSBURGH-Carnegie Mellon University's Dave Dzombak recounts the challenges and success of the Clean Water Act as it reaches its 40th anniversary.

"Although the timeline for the act's water quality objectives were too ambitious, a system of federal, state and local cooperation was initiated which has yielded substantial progress in improving water quality," said Dzombak, the Walter J. Blenko, Sr. University Professor of Environmental Engineering and director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research at CMU.

Dzombak points out that problems remain today with respect to our nation's waters; by contrast the problems in the early 1970s were more basic.

"Many communities had rudimentary or no wastewater treatment, and there was limited or no regulation on many industrial discharges; and many lakes such as Lake Erie were suffering from severe oxygen depletion due to inputs of organic matter and algal-bloom-inducing nutrient chemicals," Dzombak said.

The overall objective of the Clean Water Act of 1972 was to "restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's water." Its broad scope encompasses municipal and industrial wastewater treatment, a federal permitting system for individual pipe discharges, development of water quality objectives, water quality monitoring and assessment, state water quality reporting, water quality in estuaries, ocean discharges, wetland protection and other aspects of protection and restoration of surface waters.

While there is still continuing discharges of raw sewage in many cites when it rains, and many communities still experience water contamination from long-abandoned mines, the Clean Water Act has helped improved our water supplies and led to many kinds of waterfront redevelopments such as   recreational trail systems along our rivers, according to Dzombak, a member and chair of the National Research Council Committees that have examined clean water implementation in the Mississippi River basin over the past five years.

"Without the Clean Water Act, our rivers, streams and lakes would be very different places today," Dzombak said.