Clean Water Act of 1972 grew from the1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland

Trump signs exec order on farmers' waters and EPA
Posted at 7:14 AM, Mar 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-03 15:32:39-05

The Clean Water Act of 1972 empowers the federal government to protect the nation's waters. But which waters are under government jurisdiction is a fiercely-contested question.

Many of the nation's farmers have felt they were under the unjust jurisdiction of the government. The law requires farmers to apply for federal permits to use fertilizer near their own ditches and streams which may eventually flow into larger rivers.

President Trump signed an executive order which he contends would give relief to the farmers. The overall law affecting waters in the U.S. is not under debate, but the law regarding the smaller streams is hotly contested. 

He also signed an executive order which is aimed at mandating a review of the rule which was established during the Obama administration.

However, no one contests the larger Clean Water Act of 1972 which is the larger umbrella over the Obama rules. 

The burning question

That act grew out of the 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River. The river caught fire when a flame came in contact with the heavily-polluted and toxic chemicals which were being dumped into the waterway.  The burning of part of the winding waterway which stretches through Cleveland prompted the entire nation brought the nation to a crisis point. 

"It jelled people," said Bill Zawiski of the Ohio EPA, in a 2014 interview. "It was the right place at the right time historically and the environmental movement, many say, started here." 

From that point, Cleveland and the nation took a harder look at qualities of waterways.

Cleaning up its act

Forty-eight years later, the Cuyahoga is clean enough for the return of fish and waterfowl.  Although it is a working river snaking its way through an industrial area of the city, the Cuyahoga is also a recreational area. Its cleanliness is celebrated, both locally and nationally.

"To us, our canary in the coal mine is fish, numbers, and health," said Jane Goodman of Cuyahoga River Restoration in a 2014 interview. "The water is clean enough for them to live."

The executive order signed by President Trump takes the rule regarding smaller waterways on private land in a different direction, but does not change the flow of environmental concerns on major waterways in the nation.

Still, there will be debate over Trump's attempts to change the Obama rule regarding a section of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

WATCH: "The River on Fire"