Statement on 40 year anniversary of Clinton River Watershed Council

Apr 16, 2012

Mr. Speaker,

I rise today to congratulate the Clinton River Watershed Council as it celebrates forty years of making a positive difference to the Clinton River and its watershed.  

Forty years ago, the Clinton River was a very different waterway than it is today.  Decades of uncontrolled dumping of industrial wastewater and raw sewage had taken a huge environmental toll on water quality in the river.  There were no fish to speak of in the river, and certainly none that you would care to eat.  Far from being an asset to the communities along its banks, the Clinton River was slowly dying.

That might have been the end of the story except for two key developments in 1972.  The first was the passage of the Clean Water Act which spelled out ambitious programs for water quality improvement.  The second key development was the formation of the Clinton River Watershed Council.  Both of these had a profound impact on water quality in the Clinton River.

Passage of the Clean Water Act forty years ago was one of the most important environmental milestones in our nation’s history.  It marked a fundamental change in how our nation views and manages water in this country.  After decades of polluting the Great Lakes and their tributaries – including the Clinton River – we finally recognized that healthy rivers and lakes are vital to the health of our communities, and we required that steps be taken to restore them.

The formation of the Clinton River Watershed Council marked another important turning point.  It takes time and resources to undo decades of pollution and neglect, and still more time for an ecosystem to heal.  Restoring an urban waterway like the Clinton River is especially complicated.  I am convinced that the effort to heal the Clinton River has gone much faster because it had advocates to coordinate action and focus attention and resources.  Thanks to the work of the Clinton River Watershed Council and its members and member units of government, real progress is being made on water quality, and once again the Clinton River is being used for fishing, canoeing, and hiking.  The Council’s efforts in the areas of watershed management, stewardship and education have also had a tangible, positive impact.

There was a time when we turned our backs to our rivers and lakes.  Today, we know better.  As the hard-won progress in the Clinton River and Lake St. Clair shows, waterfront development is a real generator of economic activity and a one-of-a-kind asset to communities. 

We need to build on the progress that has been made in the Clinton River Watershed as well as Lake St. Clair.  This absolutely requires a partnership of effort by federal, state, and local governments, as well as local stakeholders and advocacy groups.  It also means a continued commitment of resources from the federal government, especially when it comes to funding the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.  Now is not the time to cut funding for this vital initiative.  Congress and the Obama Administration must also work to clarify and restore long-standing Clean Water Act protections for U.S. streams, wetlands, and other waters.

But the real work of completing the restoration of the Clinton River will continue to be done by groups like the Clinton River Watershed Council and the many volunteers and sponsors that support their efforts.  The Watershed Council’s work underscores the value that a healthy Clinton River holds for our citizens and communities.  I ask all of my colleagues to join me in recognizing the Clinton River Watershed Council as it begins its fifth decade of work to protect, enhance and celebrate the Clinton River and its watershed.