The Clean Water Act as we know it was established 1972, making 2012 its 40th anniversary year of striving to reduce pollution in the nation's water sources.

"We have made great progress in reducing pollution during the past 40 years," states EPA's special Clean Water Act anniversary Web page. "But many challenges remain and we must work together to protect clean water for our families and future generations. Everyone has an impact on the water and we are all responsible for making a difference. Water is worth it."

According to EPA, the Clean Water Act endeavors "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters." The Clean Water Act:

· Specifies that all discharges into the nation’s waters are unlawful unless authorized by a permit;
· Sets baseline, across-the-board technology-based controls for municipalities and industry;
· Requires all dischargers to meet additional, stricter pollutant controls where needed to meet water quality targets;
· Protects wetlands by requiring “dredge and fill” permits;
· Authorizes federal financial assistance to states and municipalities to help achieve these national water goals; and more.

Water Milestones

EPA's Web site includes a timeline of significant events relating to the nation's water protections. Milestones leading up to the Clean Water Act include the June 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River; Time's August 1969 report that Lake Erie was "in danger of dying"; the establishment of the EPA in December 1970; and Congress passing the Federal Water Pollution Act, otherwise known as the Clean Water Act, on Oct. 18, 1972.

In the 40 years since the Act was created, water protections highlights include the safe drinking water standards of the 1970s; the Chesapeake Bay pollution cleanup in 1983; wetlands protections in the 1980s; the 1987 amendments to the Clean Water Act, which established a program for controlling toxic pollutants and stormwater discharges; the Exxon Valdez Spill in 1989, which lead to the adoption of the Pollution Prevention Act; EPA's efforts to reduce environmental impacts of Appalachian mountaintop mining in 2009; the Deepwater Horizon Spill in April 2010; and much more.

View the full timeline or visit EPA's Clean Water Act anniversary site.