University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota

Why Didn’t We Start Riverfront Revitalization Long Ago?

This question comes up in my classes and in meetings fairly often.  After all, reconnecting with our urban riverfronts seems such an obvious community development tool, it’s a surprise that the overall practice has only really caught fire in the past 30 years or so.

Three words:  Clean Water Act.  Enacted by an overide of President Nixon’s veto in the fall of 1972, the federal Clean Water Act provides the basic framework for water quality testing, monitoring, and the establishment of standards (“fishable and swimmable” according to the legislative language) for clean water across the country.  Prior to the Act’s passage, our rivers were essentially open urban sewers, gathering and hopefully carrying away whatever detritus a community generated.  Too bad if you lived downstream.

The Clean Water Act was a marked success, within the boundaries it carved out.  Essentially, it governed outputs from what are termed “point source” generators of pollution, such as industrial pipes and sewage treatment plants.  “Nonpoint” sources of pollution, such as yards, and farm fields, are not covered, which has been a growing source of concern.

The Freshwater Society takes up the issue of reflecting on the successes and limitations of the Clean Water Act in the next Moos Family Lecture Series in Water Resources,.  G. Tracy Mehan III, an environmental consultant who was the top water-quality official in the Environmental Protection Agency from 2001 to 2003, will give a free public lecture on the landmark legislation on Monday, June 25, in St. Paul.

A panel of three Minnesota experts will join Mehan in taking questions from the audience. They are: Sherry Enzler, a research fellow in the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment; Bradley C. Karkkainen, an environmental law professor in the University of Minnesota Law School; and John Linc Stine, commissioner of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The lecture is sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences. The 7 p.m. lecture will be in the Student Center Theater on the university’s St. Paul campus. For information, go to

About the Freshwater Society
The Freshwater Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring people to value, conserve and protect water resources. Located in Excelsior, Minn., it has a long history of association with the University of Minnesota. Learn more at

About the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences
The College of Biological Sciences provides education and conducts research in all areas of biology, from molecules to ecosystems, supporting applications in medicine, renewable energy, ecosystem management, agriculture and biotechnology. For more information about research and degree programs, go to


Tagged , , , , , ,

Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Enviro Equipment BlogJune 22, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Your readers should know that referring to G. Tracy Mehan III as the top water-quality official with the EPA can be construed as somewhat deceiving as he was actually the Assistant Administrator for Water with the EPA.

    Having said that, he is an extremely experienced and knowledgeable expert on water quality and the testing of groundwater and should give an excellent lecture.

Contact Us!
Send us a note at to make suggestions for other places we should look, media to track, and stories to tell!
River Life in Video
Come Along for a Water Walk with Kare11 and River Life, and see Gifts at Work: The Mississippi River by the University of Minnesota Foundation
Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi
A joint project of River Life, the Institute for Advanced Study, and the University of Minnesota Libraries, Open Rivers is an interdisciplinary online journal that recognizes the Mississippi River as a space for timely and critical conversations about people, community, water, and place.