The Clean Water Act had a birthday this week. I should have made a cake and put 45 candles on it, which would have required having a working fire extinguisher. Heaven forbid having to use one and ruin a cake of any sort, much less The Clean Water Act's many-layered birthday cake.

The Act was born just 2 months after my son so they are the same age. Back in 1972 rivers were catching on fire and as he would say, "That is just NOT RIGHT." Not then and hopefully never again.

I gave up and hauled an old fire extinguisher to Miami this week, a heavy, I mean really heavy one. It had been left behind by a fellow who had baled some hay for us and pretty much botched the job, left it to defray guilt perhaps. I have a lot of respect for firemen and their profession, but I don't want to be one, and picking up that fire extinguisher would have been far off my list of options to take if a fire had burst out through the years and I might have been forced to attempt to use it.

After all these years, I was not sure the heavy thing was safe to have around so the time had come to take it to the expert for an opinion, so naturally I went the 2 blocks from the LEAD Agency office to Miami Fire Protection Co. and talked to Terry Atkinson, who didn't call it an antique but did take immediate action to make sure it was no longer activated or loaded and as such safe to be around. Deactivated for sure, I left it with him to add to the scrap metal recycling pile.

The day got away from me and I didn't make that cake for the Clean Water Act but I did celebrate water today drinking cold water, filtered hold the ice. Standing Rock and the activists all across the nation have begun to use the term, Water is Life, and all my life I have loved being near water, flowing water if possible. But that Missouri River my son and I crossed on our trip to North Dakota last December, caused us to roll the windows down just to smell it. Clean water, I had never encountered it, nothing like that clean Missouri River that so many stood up to save.

Water is worth the effort and the United States knew it 45 years ago and passed a law to protect it. Imagine having to pass a law to protect the sacred thing that water is to all of us. But Congress did it and the president signed it. And ever since then Congress and the presidents who followed as well as cities and states have weakened that law until most of our rivers, lakes and streams in this whole country are now impaired.

They aren't catching on fire yet, or there are not enough pollutants in them that Congress has sought to re-in-act and re-in-state the strength of the Clean Water Act. YET. I wonder what it will take? How many more birthday candles do we add to the cakes before the water is bad enough Congress will say stop to the polluters, to the cities who stall to improve their wastewater treatment facilities, stop to citing big agriculture, or factory farms too close to our rivers and lakes?

The goal of the Clean Water Act was to have zero discharge of contaminants by 1985. The goal posts kept being moved to appease corporations and cities and the money to regulate point source and non-point source pollution is being cut and cut again. 71.3 percent of assessed lakes/reservoirs/ponds and 54.9 percent of assessed streams/rivers in the U.S. are unsafe for fishing, drinking, and/or swimming. I once said regulation is not a dirty word, not when regulation can PROTECT us.

Eliminating Clean Water Act protections for water-bodies will endanger the public and will degrade and destroy our nation’s fisheries, water supplies, recreational waters and coastal waters. Permitting and regulating pollution discharges into upstream water bodies is essential to restoring our nation’s waters, which are still polluted 45 years after passage of the CWA. As a nation, we cannot have clean water unless we control pollution at its source—wherever that source may be.

I am proud to be the Tar Creekkeeper one of the Waterkeeper Alliance's team of water protectors around the globe. LEAD Agency also sponsors the Grand Riverkeeper and hope to find a Spring Riverkeeper out there somewhere to advocate for that once marvelous river. But each of these need not just a keeper but teams of people lined up speaking out for their protection.

If you find yourself wondering how you can help us get this Clean Water Act's act together, call your senator and your representative and let them know our water needs a Clean Water Act that does what it was supposed to do, protect our water. We don't want to have fire extinguishers posted at every river bend and creek bank attempting to put out the fires when the water starts burning again. That would NOT be right!

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

Rebecca Jim is the executive director of the LEAD Agency (www.leadagency.org).