Introduction

I think there is no sense in forming an opinion when there is no evidence to form it on. If you build a person without any bones in him he may look fair enough to the eye, but he will be limber and cannot stand up; and I consider that evidence is the bones of an opinion.

—Attributed to Mark Twain in "Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc."

Today, a student writing a paper on the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972 (Public Law 92-500, later to be known as the Clean Water Act or CWA) would be hard-pressed to find a public official who would say the legislation was not a success. Vice President Gore's remarks in October 1997, celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the act, are representative of the good feelings people have about the CWA (USEPA, 1997a; WEF, 1997).

In his speech, the Vice President lauded the cooperative efforts of federal, state, tribal, and local governments in implementing the act's pollution control provisions. He reported that the quality of rivers, lakes, and bays has "improved dramatically." He related success stories involving water-based commerce, agriculture, tourism, fisheries, and quality of life for a variety of locations, including Alaska's St. Paul Harbor, the Chesapeake Bay, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River, the Long Island Sound, and the Houston Ship Channel. With cheers like that ringing in people's ears, it's no wonder that the prevailing public opinion is that the act has been a success. But what if the paper-writing student were to inquire skeptically about the "bones" of this opinion? What scientific evidence could she cite to back up this claim? Was the nation indeed able to buy water quality success with the approximately $200.6 billion in capital costs and $210.1 billion in operation and maintenance costs (current year dollars) invested from 1972 to 1994 by public and private authorities in point source water pollution control?

A centerpiece of the CWA was a dramatic increase in federal support for upgrading publicly owned treatment works (POTWs). From 1970 to 1999, $77.2 billion in federal grants and contributions through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (USEPA's) Construction Grants and Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) programs was distributed to municipalities and states for this activity. A 1995 editorial in the Water Environment Federation's research journal noted that no comprehensive national study has ever been done to document whether this investment has paid off in terms of improved water quality (Mearns, 1995). Who could blame the stu dent, then, if she applied Mark Twain's logic and concluded that the public's opinion concerning the success of the CWA was "limber" and could not "stand up."

The purpose of this book is to provide that student with the "bones" to form an opinion that will stand up. Specifically, it was designed to examine whether "significant" water quality improvements [in the form of increased dissolved oxygen (DO) levels] have occurred downstream from POTW discharges since the enactment of the CWA.

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