Over the past quarter century, America has made tremendous strides in cleaning up our rivers, lakes and coastal waters. But much more needs to be done. In his State of the Union address, President Clinton is announcing a major new Clean Water Initiative to fulfill the promise of the Clean Water Act -- clean, safe water for every American.

25 Years of Success. In 1972, the Potomac River was too dirty to swim in, Lake Erie was dying and the Cuyohoga River was so polluted it burst into flames. Many rivers and beaches were little more than open sewers. In 25 years, the Clean Water Act has stopped billions of pounds of pollution from fouling our water, doubling the number of waterways safe for fishing and swimming. Today, our rivers, lakes and coasts are thriving centers of healthy communities.

The Challenge Ahead. Despite tremendous progress, 40 percent of our Nation's waterways are still unsafe for fishing and swimming. Pollution from factories and sewage plants has been dramatically reduced. But runoff from farms, city streets and other sources continues to degrade our environment. Fish in many of our waters still contain dangerous levels of mercury, PCBs and other toxic contaminants. And too many families receive health warnings about their tap water.

A Bold, New Plan. On October 18, 1997, the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Vice President Gore directed federal agencies to prepare an aggressive Action Plan to speed the restoration of our precious waterways. The Action Plan, which forms the core of the President's Clean Water Initiative, will be released next month, and the President's FY99 budget will propose substantial new resources to carry it out. The initiative will:

Strengthen public health protection by reducing exposure to toxic contaminants and harmful marine organisms that threaten the water we drink and the fish we eat.

Curb polluted runoff from rural and urban areas by providing communities new resources to control "nonpoint source pollution" and by providing new incentives for farmers to adopt practices that protect water quality.

Promote community-based watershed management by coordinating federal, state and local efforts, in partnership with landowners and affected industries, to prioritize the needs of the broader ecosystem and encourage cost-effective pollution control strategies.

A Challenge to Congress. Beyond these steps under existing law, President Clinton is renewing his challenge to Congress to join him in strengthening the Clean Water Act. Four years ago, the President outlined his principles for retooling this landmark law. The 104th Congress instead advanced a "Dirty Water Bill" that would have seriously weakened the Act. The President is again calling on Congress to pass a stronger Clean Water Act that gives states and communities the authority and resources to work together to protect public health and complete the restoration of our vital waterways. Further, he is urging Congress to stop its stealth attacks on the environment and to abandon proposals, like property rights bills (H.R. 1534 and S. 1204), that would hamper state and local efforts to protect water quality.

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