This chapter examines how water pollution diminished the value of American rivers and destroyed their essence as a natural resource. For more than 200 years, rivers in America were used as a convenient dumpsite for sewage, toxic waste, and agricultural runoff. This occurred despite the fact that two-thirds of the country's drinking water comes from rivers. The effort to pass meaningful and enforceable national water quality standards was a long, incremental struggle that finally bore fruit in 1972, when the Clean Water Act, to be administered by the newly created Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was passed into law. Two years later, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This chapter considers the experiences of three cities—Atlanta, Washington DC, and Seattle—that each has committed grievous sins against a local watercourse, but has made dramatic efforts to correct past mistakes. In particular, it looks at each city's river restoration initiatives.
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