Don’t debate; Adapt. Adaptive implementation can help water quality professionals achieve TMDL goals
We’ve come a long way in four decades. In 1972, the Cuyahoga River caught fire, Lake Erie was declared “dead,” and anyone who fell in the Potomac River was presumed to need a hepatitis shot. To cure these ills, the U.S. Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA). Its lofty goal was to restore all U.S. waters to swimmable and fishable conditions via a simple strategy: Eliminate the discharge of poorly treated municipal and industrial wastewater.
Effective wastewater treatment resulted in substantial progress by the 1990s. The Cuyahoga River sported water taxis rather than fire-patrol boats, Lake Erie became a $2 billion tourist mecca, and both striped bass and rowing enthusiasts returned to the Potomac. However, not all waters had become fishable and swimmable. Legal action was taken to enforce CWA Sec. 303(d), a provision requiring that total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) — a “pollution budget” — be developed for all waters that did not meet water quality standards. Suddenly, this once obscure, ignored provision of CWA became the centerpiece of water quality improvement programs.