IJC Recognizes 40th Anniversary of U.S. Clean Water Act


The International Joint Commission today recognized the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Clean Water Act as a major milestone in the cleanup of the Great Lakes.

The Act, which became law on October 18, 1972, provided the framework for controlling U.S. industrial and municipal discharges into the Great Lakes and other U.S. waters. Coupled with the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, signed on April 15, 1972, it led to dramatic and visible improvements in the water quality of the Great Lakes within the following decade.

“The days of burning rivers and using our waters as open sewers became legally unacceptable with the passage of the landmark Clean Water Act,” said Lana Pollack, U.S. Section Chair of the IJC. “Today, as we face new challenges to water quality, we know effective laws, strong binational cooperation, and well-funded clean water programs make a big difference for the people who depend on the great waters of both our nations.”

Canada observed the 40th anniversary of its national environmental agency, Environment Canada in 2011, the same year as the Province of Ontario established its Ministry of the Environment under the provincial Environmental Protection Act. 

“Canada took strong action to ensure clean water in 1971 by creating agencies focused on environmental quality,” said Joe Comuzzi, Canadian Section Chair of IJC.  “Work by all governments on both sides of the border continues to protect the Great Lakes.  We join our American colleagues in recognizing the important anniversary of the U.S. Clean Water Act.”

In the United States, the Clean Water Act authorized substantially increased federal funding for public sewage treatment upgrades, resulting in more than $10 billion in investment in Great Lakes wastewater facilities in a decade, helping reduce phosphorus pollution choking Lake Erie and areas of three other Great Lakes.  The chronic discharge of raw sewage and industrial contaminants was curbed.  In tandem with objectives set by the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and separate regulatory actions by governments in both Canada and U.S., levels of chemicals like PCBs and DDT plunged in the 1970s and early 1980s.