EPA, local leaders celebrate 50th anniversary of Clean Water Act

On Friday, Environmental Protection Agency leaders along with state and local partners gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the passing of the federal Clean Water Act.

KIRO 7′s Briseida Holguin was there to hear about the successes and challenges of protecting water quality in Puget Sound.

The EPA kicked off a nationwide water tour here in Seattle, where there’s been a vital effort to protect and preserve Puget Sound.

“50 years ago, Lake Washington was really a place that you wanted to swim, a place that you wanted to eat fish from,” said Casey Sixkiller, EPA regional administrator. “50 years later, we do the Clean Water Act, the investments by the state and others, we’ve been able to make a lot of really important progress.”

Environmentalists say that 50 years ago, the problem was large emitters of pollution into waterways. Today, it’s a nonpoint source pollution.

“All of the stormwater runoff in our communities — pollution builds up on our hard urban surfaces, especially roads and highways,” said Jessie Israel, Puget Sound conservation director with the Nature Conservancy. “And when it rains as it does here in the Pacific Northwest, all of that pollution flows into the water.”

The Aurora Bridge bioswale project is being highlighted for capturing two million gallons of stormwater runoff from the roadway above and cleaning the pollution from the dirty water.

Polluted stormwater not only impacts water quality, but also marine life.

“This was the most polluted stormwater runoff that had ever been tested in the U.S., and we found that the tire dust that’s killing salmon, which is called 6PPD quinone, was in that water,” said Ellen Southard, Salmon-Safe Puget Sound director. “That water is like mud. It looks like a heavy, dark cup of coffee.”

Southard said they are also working on a number of projects along the Lake Washington ship canal and the Duwamish River.