Even though three-quarters of the earth’s surface is covered with water, less than one percent is drinkable. This is a sobering fact, especially when you also consider that water pollution is a primary cause of impairments.
Most Americans take clean water for granted. Even when communities post water restrictions due to drought conditions or if water needs to be brought into a community following a disaster, it is a resource that is generally always still available. We don’t collectively spend much time wondering how that water gets to the tap or into the bottle, what its quality is or how we’re going to get more of it.
Water Quality Initiatives
Without the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), these luxuries might not exist. In the early 1970s, Congress enacted both of these laws to eliminate sources of water pollution and ensure the safety of groundwater, public water systems and drinking water.
A version of the CWA was originally enacted in 1948, but the amendments added in 1972 provided the framework for water quality improvement programs that are still in use today. These amendments also gave the recently established Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to make and enforce regulations to eliminate sources of water pollution and restore water quality.
The goal of the CWA was to restore all of the nation’s waters to “fishable,” “swimmable” and, in some cases, “drinkable” by the mid-1980s. To accomplish this, the EPA tasked each state’s environmental department to assess the condition of each river, stream, lake, pond, reservoir, bay and shoreline and determine if it was impaired and what pollutants were impairing it. The states also had to determine how each body of water would be used (e.g. fishable, swimmable, drinkable, etc.).
Following this evaluation, states developed plans to get each body of water to its desired state. More than 30 years after the mid-1980s target, every state is still striving to meet these goals and less than half of the nation’s waters have reached their desired status.
Preventing Releases From Your Facility
Two provisions of CWA that help control pollution are the EPA’s Stormwater and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) regulations. Both regulations prohibit facilities from discharging harmful materials and require facilities to have plans that describe how they will prevent pollutants from reaching waterways.
Although the primary focus of each of these regulations is to put proactive measures in place to prevent spills and discharges, facilities are also required to be prepared for spills. Preparations should include these five best management practices:
- Store primary containers of hazardous materials with secondary containment to catch any leaks, drips and spills
- Protect storm drains with tight-sealing drain covers and blockers during fluid transfers
- Stock appropriate absorbents and spill kits in spill-prone areas
- Outfit storm drains with drain inserts and stormwater filtration devices to capture sediment before they reach water
- Train employees on their role when there is a spill, whether they’re a responder or just need to evacuate their area
Take time during National Water Quality Month in August to evaluate your facility’s spill preparedness and whether you’re endangering any nearby waterways with pollutants.