Reflections on the Clean Water Act's 40th Anniversary

Reflections on the Clean Water Act's 40th Anniversary

Clean Water Act
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Forty years ago, in the midst of national concern about the integrity of our waters, the Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed, establishing the basic structure for regulating pollutant discharge into the waters of the United States, as well as regulating quality standards for surface water. In light of the Act's 40th anniversary, Veolia North America is sharing perspectives from employees who were around before the Act was passed and in the early stages of its adoption.
From the perspective of employees, the CWA made a significant, observable difference in the environment of the United States. It also "raised the bar" - establishing a standard that challenged communities and industries around the world. As Veolia continues to make its own advancements in technologies, services and new sustainability tools such as the Water Impact Index, we celebrate a handful of employee reflections on the past


18 years in the industry, project manager, Kentucky
Veolia is all about water, and so am I. Thirty years ago I was just as enthusiastic about water, but in a different way. I was rowing in a crew on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia and working on the beach at the Jersey Shore as a life guard. The waters of the Schuylkill River were so polluted that if you didn't shower right after practice, you would break out in a rash just from being sprayed with it.

Now people fish in it. Unfortunately I don't have pictures, but there used to be a spot in Atlantic City where you could see tan-colored ocean waves rolling in, right next to a large pipe going out into the ocean. Those waves are clear now.


30 years in the industry, sourcing & contracts manager, Massachusetts. 
I started with one of Veolia North America's predecessor companies, Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., in August, 1982- which marks 30 years in the industry for me now. I started at the Fall River, Mass. wastewater facility and grew up in this business. 

During the years that followed came increasing awareness of the environment and the necessity for clean water, which led to many more public-private partnerships and the great improvements they offer!


34 years in the industry, project manager
I can only go back 34 years so far, but as an eye witness to the last 34 years, I can say I've seen a lot and it's been interesting. We are light years from those days. Sometimes as some folks age they fall into the "sky is falling" syndrome. Sure there are some losses. There always will be. But there are also very huge gains, especially if you consider the Clean Water Act.

In 1978, I started working at a light gas refinery chemical plant as an operator. The plant used large amounts of deep well water and discharged its wastewater into the upper Mississippi River. Large amounts of propane and ethane gas were used in the production of their products. 

Around 1975, there was a massive fish kill in a lake adjacent to the plant property. It was attributed to this chemical plant, but it's likely other nearby chemical plants also contributed to the environmental problems in this area.

In 1978, they had just put online a state-of-the-art activated sludge wastewater treatment plant to clean up the facility's discharge to the river. It worked! The discharge went from very bad to very clean almost overnight and successful wastewater treatment there continues to this day. 

Read a success story
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In 2002, Veolia replaced most of this 1977 activated sludge wastewater treatment plant with a new one, with modern modifications. Veolia Water operated and maintained the plant for about nine years. This chemical plant to this day continues to send pristine wastewater discharge that is well below permit limits into the upper Mississippi River. 

I personally witnessed 32 years of constant, successful efforts to never return to the past. During my 32 years, this plant only saw a couple of minor non-compliance issues, and both occurred before Veolia installed the new plant in 2002. Knowing the stories of how bad it was only a couple years before I started working at this location, it was fascinating to witness the continuous change and improvements first-hand.

I want those new to the environmental industry or those interested in careers in water and wastewater management to know that this industry makes a huge contribution to our planet. It's worth every drop of sweat to ensure future generations have the resources we've been so blessed with.


40+ years in the industry, Veolia North Americas' Industrial Business Group; vice president of operations, Texas
In October 1972, I was an engineering co-op for a sanitary and hydraulic consulting firm in Atlanta doing surveying and drafting work for new sewer lines and pumping stations as wastewater plants were being upgraded.I saw plenty of heavily polluted creeks as we cut survey lines and staked them out. Later, after finishing my education, I worked on wastewater treatment plant upgrades while at a global energy company.

The Clean Water Act was a positive move that allowed our children to enjoy an outdoor environment that they used to avoid years ago. Some may even say that the Clean Water Act moved the rest of the world, particularly Europe, towards a cleaner water environment.

I worked extensively in Europe in the early 90's at a global energy company's oil refineries conducting waste minimization studies and water reuse studies ahead of planned WWTP upgrades. The Clean Water Act, in my opinion, prodded global companies outside the United States to build to a higher standard, a standard that originated in the United States.


Veolia Group, Senior Executive Vice President Innovation and Markets
Sustainability and effective treatment of water and wastewater is the very heart of the services Veolia provides. The Clean Water Act established a tremendously positive standard for the protection and restoration of America's rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands and coastal waters. Veolia will continue to supply not only the expertise necessary to meet this standard, but the commitment and passion as well.


40 years of


Honoring the
Clean Water Act with
new innovation