Restoration Economy: Leaders celebrate how Clean Water Act helped reverse 400 years of Chesapeake Bay degradation in 50 years

On September 12, 2022, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox joined U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen, Congressman John Sarbanes, EPA Region 3 Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz, and other regional and community leaders to celebrate environmental restoration progress, highlighting water quality improvements in the Chesapeake Bay as part of the EPA’s 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act celebration tour.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972—with an overwhelming bipartisan majority—it charted a new path for America’s waters. As a result, we have seen transformational progress over the last 50 years—waters that were once polluted are now fishable and swimmable,” said Fox.

President Biden and Congress have laid the foundation for the next 50 years of progress by investing $50 billion in EPA’s water programs through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” she added.

Five decades of Clean Water Act implementation have reduced direct pollution discharges to our nation’s waters and improved wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.

In passing the Clean Water Act 50 years ago, Congress established a simple but powerful vision of a future where all of America’s waters are fishable, swimmable, and drinkable. While we are still building that future, we continue to rely on the promises of this landmark legislation to guide us forward, especially in our goal to protect and preserve the Chesapeake Bay,” said Senator Van Hollen.

We must never retreat from that vision and I’ve been proud to work alongside Federal Team Maryland to deliver historic federal investments for Bay restoration, improve access to clean water, and more. Working together, we will continue fighting to protect our treasured Chesapeake Bay and all of America’s waterways.

This progress was built on strong partnerships between EPA, and state, local, and Tribal governments as well as community and environmental organizations, industry, and agriculture.

In just a few decades we are turning around 400 years of degradation of the Bay and the waters that flow into it. There is much still to do but there is certainly much to celebrate,” said EPA Regional Administrator Adam Ortiz.

The Chesapeake Bay serves as an economic powerhouse. Prior to the Bay TMDL being implemented, it was estimated that the Chesapeake Bay provided economic benefits to the region in the amount of $107.2 billion annually. It is further estimated that after the Bay TMDL is fully implemented, that annual value will increase by $22.5 billion.

The Clean Water Act set forth a vision for our country’s waters that has guided our efforts to protect and restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. On the 50th anniversary of this landmark law, we recognize its significance to the great progress we have made in reducing pollution in the Bay and in the watershed’s lands, rivers and streams,” said Congressman Sarbanes.

To accelerate this work, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes historic investments in water infrastructure improvements that present a new opportunity to meet the goals of the Bay Agreement and preserve this national treasure for generations to come,” he continued.

Since 2012, state partners have maximized more than $366 from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to invest in green infrastructure solutions that reduce pollution in the Bay.

The Clean Water Act is of critical importance to Maryland water bodies and communities that rely on clean water. Best of all, it is the statutory home of the Chesapeake Bay Program, the unique state-federal grassroots partnership to restore our nation’s largest estuary. The once-in-a generation investment Congress and the Biden administration have delivered to the watershed this year is the perfect way to celebrate this milestone,” said Senator Cardin, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Now, with funding available from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the federal family will continue to invest in restoring and protecting the critical habitats that drive the region’s economy and environmental health.

Other leaders also celebrated this restoration economy progress:

The Chesapeake Bay is an invaluable resource for Virginia, where it serves as an economic engine, an environmental hub, and a recreational safe haven. Conserving the Bay is crucial to the overall wellbeing of the commonwealth, and I am pleased that through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law I was proud to negotiate, the Chesapeake will continue to receive vital support for this mission,” said Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia).

Like any Marylander, I love the Chesapeake Bay and recognize its vital role in our lifestyles, traditions, and economy,” said Congressman David Trone. “Representing a district in its watershed is an honor and a responsibility I don’t take lightly. On the Clean Water Act’s 50th Anniversary, we celebrate our progress and reaffirm our commitment to ensuring the Bay – and other water habitats across our country – can be enjoyed and depended on by future generations.

The Chesapeake Bay is our local national treasure, and it’s crucial to Coastal Virginia’s economy and way of life. The Clean Water Act has made significant progress in transforming, restoring, and preserving the Bay and its watershed so future generations can enjoy its natural wonder. Protecting the Chesapeake Bay remains one of my top priorities in Congress, and I will continue to support further investments that ensure all Americans can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and have access to pristine natural environments,” said Congresswoman Elaine Luria.

Today is an opportunity to celebrate the Clean Water Act and the restoration that has taken place in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” said Congressman. A. Donald McEachin. “The Chesapeake Bay is a vital source of commerce, tourism, and job creation for my district, the Commonwealth, and the mid-Atlantic states that border it. We have made tremendous progress in cleaning up the Bay through increased oversight, sustainable infrastructure investments, and concerted regional and federal initiatives. I am confident we will build on this momentum and continue fighting to preserve this precious natural resource.

Congress passed the Clean Water Act fifty years ago to ‘restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.’ As co-chair of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Task Force, I have the honor of supporting the EPA’s innovative Chesapeake Bay Program, which is authorized by the Clean Water Act. The Bay Program has made significant strides to restore the integrity of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries but further action is required. I am confident that, fifty years from now, the investments we have made to combat climate change and support conservation in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act will be remembered as critical moments for the watershed building on the success of the Clean Water Act. I commend the Biden Administration for its work to implement these bills and protect our nation’s water,” said Congressman Bobby Scott.

The Clean Water Act has been essential to Bay restoration,” said Hilary Falk, President of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “The law provides the legal framework we depend on to reduce pollution in streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Without it, we could not have stemmed the flow of untreated sewage, toxic waste, and other harmful pollutants that industrial facilities once sent directly into our waterways. We also would not have the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the science-based plan to clean up the Bay. And we would not have the legal tools we need to continue pushing for water that is safe for the benefit of all who depend on clean water.

As EPA kicks off a tour celebrating the Clean Water Act, the agency is also collaborating with its partners to chart a course for the next fifty years of progress for clean water.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has provided a historic investment in water infrastructure, including $12.7 billion through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund programs that were established by the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act. This funding is a significant investment in the future of clean water in the country. This investment in improved, resilient infrastructure will have positive impacts on waterways for years to come.

Leading up to the 50th Anniversary of October 18, the tour will highlight waters that are essential to healthy people, vibrant ecosystems, agricultural productivity, and economic growth. Stops will include the Florida Everglades, the Boston Harbor, the Cuyahoga River, the San Francisco Bay, and more.

Photo of Chesapeake Bay by Storm Cunningham.

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