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President Clinton Announces the Clean Water Action Plan

[EPA press release - February 19, 1998]

President Clinton today in Baltimore announced a Clean Water Action Plan to restore and protect America's waters. The President's proposed 1999 budget calls for a $568 million increase to carry out the plan. Two fact sheets on the Clean Water Action plan are attached.


President Clinton: Clean, Safe Water for All Americans

"Tonight, I ask you to join me in launching a new Clean Water Initiative, a far-reaching effort to clean our rivers, our lakes, our coastal waters for our children."

President Bill Clinton
State of the Union, January 27, 1998

Today, President Clinton announces a Clean Water Action Plan to restore and protect America's waters. Twenty-five years after enactment of the Clean Water Act, the President is launching a major new initiative to fulfill its promise--clean, healthy water for all Americans. To carry out the initiative, the President's budget proposes $568 million in new resources in Fiscal Year 1999--a 35 percent increase--and a total increase of $2.3 billion over five years. The President also is challenging Congress to join him in strengthening and reauthorizing the Clean Water Act.

New Pollution Challenges. We have made tremendous strides in cleaning up our rivers, lakes and coastal waters, largely by controlling pollution from factories and sewage plants. Yet 40 percent of our surveyed waterways are still too polluted for fishing and swimming. The largest remaining challenge is reducing "nonpoint" pollution: runoff from farms, city streets and other sources.

A Second Generation of Clean Water Protection. These new challenges demand a new approach. The Action Plan aims to protect public health and restore our precious waterways by setting strong goals and providing states, communities and landowners the tools and resources to meet them. It charts a new course emphasizing collaborative strategies built around watersheds and the communities they sustain.

Clean Water, Healthy Communities. The Action Plan supports efforts by states and communities to prevent the contamination of beaches, fish and drinking water sources. It will reduce polluted runoff, increase wetlands and protect coastal waters from outbreaks of harmful organisms like Pfiesteria and alarming conditions like the "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico.

Incentives for Conservation. To promote private conservation efforts, the Action Plan provides increased incentives to farmers and other landowners to adopt practices that protect water quality. For instance, it expands Department of Agriculture programs that compensate farmers for creating protective forest and grassland buffers along rivers and streams.

Community-Based Planning. Water quality is best protected by looking at the entire watershed--all the land, from forest to farm to urban neighborhood, that contributes runoff to a river system. The Action Plan encourages states and communities to work with the public and all affected stakeholders to identify priorities and the most cost-effective cleanup strategies.


President Clinton's Clean Water Initiative

Twenty-five years after the Clean Water Act began the job of restoring America's waterways, President Clinton and Vice President Gore are launching a major new initiative to fulfill the promise of that landmark law--clean, healthy water for all Americans.

To carry out the initiative, the President's budget proposes $568 million in new resources in Fiscal Year 1999--a 35 percent increase--and a total increase of $2.3 billion over five years. The President also is challenging Congress to join him in strengthening and reauthorizing the Clean Water Act.

25 Years of Success

In 1972, the Potomac River was too dirty for swimming, Lake Erie was dying and the Cuyahoga River was so polluted it burst into flames. Over the past 25 years, since enactment of the Clean Water Act, America has made significant strides in cleaning up our rivers, lakes and coastal waters:

  • doubling the number of waterways safe for fishing and swimming;
  • Reducing industrial discharges by billions of pounds a year;
  • More than doubling the number of Americans served by adequate sewage treatment;
  • Reducing annual wetland losses by roughly 75 percent;
  • Reducing soil erosion from cropland by more than a third.

The Challenges Ahead

Despite tremendous progress in controlling pollution from factories and sewage plants, runoff from farms, city streets and other sources continues to degrade our water. Too many of our rivers, lakes and coastal areas remain in trouble:

  • Forty percent of the nation's surveyed waterways are still too polluted for fishing and swimming.
  • Nearly 2,200 health advisories were issued in 1996 warning against consumption of contaminated fish.
  • Beaches were closed or warnings issued more than 2,500 times in 1996 because of contaminated waters.
  • Excess runoff of pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorous contributes to algal blooms, outbreaks of harmful organisms like Pfiesteria and a 6,000-square mile hypoxic (oxygen-starved zone) in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Clean Water Action Plan: Restoring and Protecting America's Waters

On October 18, 1997, the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Vice President Gore directed the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture to work with other agencies and the public to prepare an aggressive plan outlining the next generation of clean water protection. The Action Plan, announced today by President Clinton, will protect public health and restore our precious waterways by setting strong goals and providing states, communities and farmers the tools and resources to meet them. It charts a new course emphasizing collaborative strategies built around watersheds and the communities they sustain. The plan calls for more than 100 major new actions to restore and protect water resources, including:

Protecting Public Health

  • A national survey of contaminants in fish and shellfish by 2000; stronger efforts to make sure the public is warned of potential health threats.
  • New water quality standards to ensure that beaches are safe; a new Internet database listing beach closings, advisories and areas that are not monitored.
  • Increased enforcement and assistance to states to control discharges contaminating fish and shellfish, beaches and drinking water sources.

Controlling Polluted Runoff

  • More than $120 million in new assistance to states and tribes to curb polluted runoff and to encourage the adoption of enforceable state and tribal controls.
  • Numeric criteria for nutrients (i.e., nitrogen and phosphorous) in water bodies by 2000 and initiation of standards to enforce them if states do not.
  • A new strategy to control runoff from cattle, poultry and pig farms (animal feeding operations) with a goal of issuing discharge permits to the largest by 2005.

Incentives for Private Land Stewardship

  • Increased incentives and more than $100 million in new resources to help farmers control polluted runoff, create 2 million miles of buffer zones adjacent to waterways, and develop pollution prevention plans covering more than 35 million acres, by 2002.
  • Assistance to states in developing federal-state partnerships under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement program to protect water quality and habitat on private lands.
  • Assessment of potential tax incentives to encourage conservation of critical private lands.

New Resources for Watersheds

  • Joint efforts with states and tribes to set watershed restoration priorities and identify watersheds not meeting clean water goals.
  • Expanded funding to support implementation of pollution controls and other measures identified in Watershed Restoration Action Strategies developed by states in collaboration with local communities and stakeholders.
  • Grants and technical assistance to support local organizations promoting watershed partnerships.

Restoring and Protecting Watersheds

  • A coordinated strategy to achieve a net increase of 100,000 wetland acres a year by 2005, including a 50 percent increase in wetlands restored and enhanced by the Corps of Engineers.
  • Emphasis on wetland restoration as a remedy for Clean Water Act violations.
  • An interagency system to more accurately track wetland loss, restoration and creation.

Protecting Coastal Waters

  • A coordinated federal response system to support state and local efforts during major events such as harmful algae blooms and Pfiesteria outbreaks.
  • Amendment of Fisheries Management Plans to identify essential fish habitat and options for minimizing adverse effects of state and federal activities.
  • Approval of enforceable state plans to reduce polluted runoff in coastal areas by December 1999.

Expanding Citizens' Right to Know

  • New Internet-based systems to provide information on the health of aquatic systems in more than 2,000 watersheds nationwide and on watershed programs and services.
  • Standardized monitoring and reporting by point source discharges to support watershed planning.
  • A national report identifying critical gaps in the monitoring and assessment of sources and impacts of polluted runoff.

Enhanced Federal Stewardship

  • A Unified Federal Policy to strengthen protection of water quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems on federal lands.
  • Relocation and improved water quality protection for 2,000 miles of roads and trails a year through 2005; removal or decommissioning of 5,000 miles a year by 2002.
  • An accelerated program to improve or restore 25,000 miles of stream corridor by 2005.

Immediate Steps Toward Long-Term Goals

As the President presents his long-term vision for restoring America's waters, the Administration today also is announcing two immediate steps to carry out the Action Plan:

A New Partnership for Agricultural Stewardship

The Department of Agriculture is announcing a new agreement with the state of Minnesota providing more than $200 million to promote buffer strips, easements and other conservation measures on agricultural lands. Maryland was the first state to enter into such an agreement, and proposals for similar agreements with other states are pending.

Cleaner Water Through Science

Secretary Glickman also is announcing the discovery by Department of Agriculture researchers of a new corn variety that, when used as animal feed, can significantly reduce phosphorous levels in agricultural runoff. Seed companies expect to market the new variety for the 2000 growing season.