No Longer Foul and Flammable

No Longer Foul and Flammable

This fall we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act, a powerful law aspiring to “protect the biological, physical and chemical integrity of the nation’s waters.” Prior to the Act, there was plenty of evidence that the San Francisco Bay had lost its “integrity.” A report commissioned by seven East Bay cities in 1941 described the Bay as “obnoxiously and notoriously foul and an affront to civic pride and common decency.” In the 1960s, when my wife’s family would drive from Mountain View to Berkeley to visit her grandmother, they would roll up their windows as they approached the Bay to keep the stench out of the car. Her mother referred to the Bay as “Lake Limburger.”

The Clean Water Act (in concert with State laws) had a very salutary impact on our water quality. It prompted widespread construction of facilities to treat sewage and other wastewater before discharge. It also initiated efforts to reduce tainted stormwater runoff from urban areas and clean up badly polluted sites.

The improvements in water quality have been significant, though there remain many challenges if we are going to truly achieve the Clean Water Act’s goals. My colleagues and I help mark the progress we’ve made — and what still needs to happen — in a December 2, 2022, op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle.