Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Science Matters

Science Matters Header

About this Issue

A note from Dr. Suzanne van Drunick, the National Program Director for EPA's Safe and Sustainable Water Resources research program.

40 Years of Cleaning Up Our Water—It All Starts with Science

Photo of a waterfall over a cliff in the forest.

Who wouldn't want to arrive at their 40th birthday healthier and in better shape than they were in their younger years? If the Clean Water Act could throw a party, it would have a lot to celebrate.

Forty years ago, the dire state of the nation's water resources was a national concern. The assaults were direct and numerous: untreated sewage, industrial and toxic discharges, contaminated runoff, and widespread destruction of wetlands.

For many, the symbol of that decay came in June of 1969, when something perhaps as simple as a wayward spark from a passing train ignited a mass of oil-soaked debris floating on the surface of the contaminated Cuyahoga River—sending thick, billowing black clouds of smoke into the air. A river on fire.

But then things started to change. The newly established U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was given clear direction "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation's waters" through major revisions to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, better known as the Clean Water Act (CWA).

In the 40 years since, much of the nation's waters have become significantly cleaner and safer.

How did that success story unfold? It all started with science. EPA researchers and their partners provided the strong, scientific foundation that watershed and land managers, water system operators, state, local and tribal governments, and others needed to take action.

But despite significant and lasting advances, "21st century challenges" have emerged that today threaten to stall and in some cases reverse that progress. Just one example: stretched to serve an increasing population, many of our wastewater and drinking water systems suffer from inadequate, outdated or neglected infrastructure—leading to the loss of trillions of gallons of water each year at a cost of more than $2.5 billion.

And once again, EPA scientists and engineers are poised to meet the challenges.

The Agency's Safe and Sustainable Water Research program—the focus of this special issue of EPA's Science Matters—is designed to provide the innovative science and engineering solutions needed for protecting the nation's water resources today, while setting the stage for a more sustainable future. It's a fitting "birthday present" for an environmental and human health success story 40-years in the making.

Please enjoy this issue of EPA's Science Matters to learn more.

-Dr. Suzanne van Drunick, National Program Director, Safe and Sustainable Water Resources Research Program

In EPA's Office of Research and Development, Dr. Suzanne van Drunick is the National Program Director for the Safe and Sustainable Water Resources (SSWR) research program. By training, Suzanne is an environmental toxicologist with human health, ecosystem and science policy experience. She directs EPA research on wide-ranging water issues, from protecting water quality to the management of the nation's water infrastructure.

Area Navigation

Jump to main content.