"Water, water everywhere, a drop not to drink!" Do you remember this one from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner? In the story, the Mariner is lost at sea with a dead albatross around his neck, and although surrounded by water, he is dying of thirst because the seawater is not drinkable. At the end of the story, Mariner wakes up the next morning "a sad and understanding man."
Today in America we are facing a similar situation. There are more than 42,000 bad waterways in the United States. An 'impaired waterway' is a lake, river, stream, or estuary that is too polluted to meet water quality standards. An 'impaired waterway' is a nice way of saying that the water is dangerous to wildlife and human health. You can browse the internet to find stormwater pollution prevention plans.
US The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 40 percent of our nation's lakes, rivers, and streams are not safe for swimming, fishing, or drinking. Incredibly in some states, more than 80% of waterways are not safe for these activities.
In the last forty-five years, we have come a long way in improving the quality of water. In 1960, Johnny Carson joked that he took a walk on the Hudson River. The Hudson River was so polluted you could almost walk on it. The last fire was in the Cuyahoga River in northeastern Ohio in 1968. Since 1868, the Cuyahoga River, popularly known as the "River of Fire," actually caught fire 13 times. These two impassable waterways helped propel the environmental movement.
In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed into law and the task of cleaning up our polluted waterways began. The Clean Water Act aims to restore and maintain the water quality of our country by preventing point and non-point source pollution. Overall, we've done a great job of fixing point source pollution, or single identifiable source, problems.
In many urban areas, our stormwater systems are intertwined with our sewerage systems. When a stormwater surge occurs, the sewage system is not large enough to handle the amount of water from the rain. Rainwater mixed with sewer water, untreated, flows into the nearest local waterway. In many cities, sewage can overflow with up to a quarter-inch of rain. Take Indianapolis, Indiana, for example, where the city experiences 50 to 60 overflow events each year.