NLC Recognizes City Leadership in Protecting and Preserving Water Resources

by Raksha Vasudevan

This October, the U.S. will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the primary federal law protecting the country's water resources. As the country reflects on the numerous accomplishments over the past four decades, NLC is recognizing strong city leadership in ensuring access to clean water resources, including the protection of and investment in water infrastructure and the purposeful incorporation of water within a larger sustainability agenda.

Since the inception of the CWA, city leaders have been actively engaged in opportunities to improve urban rivers, protect drinking water, conserve resources, maintain water infrastructure and manage wastewater. Working with federal partners such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), city leaders across the nation continue to ensure that all communities have access to clean water and that water infrastructure investment remains a federal priority.

One of the first major crises that put environmental protection on the national agenda occurred in 1969 in Cleveland with the infamous Cuyahoga River fire. Today the city, under the leadership of Mayor Frank Jackson, has embraced a range of sustainability goals, including a significant focus on water management. The city has developed "Sustainable Cleveland 2019," a 10-year action plan to make Cleveland a sustainable economic engine. The city identified 2019 as the target completion year for this plan, a year that will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga fire and serves as a symbol of the city's commitment to building a more sustainable, healthy community. To protect and preserve water resources, the city has given away more than 1,000 rain barrels to Cleveland residents and has started to educate residents and businesses about the use of green infrastructure strategies. Additionally, city leaders are currently developing a Watercourse Protective Zone, outlining standards and best practices for managing stormwater at development projects in specified riparian areas.

In Philadelphia in April of this year, Mayor Michael Nutter signed Green City, Clean Waters, a 25-yearpartnership agreement with the EPA to invest in state-of-the-art green infrastructure technologies to manage stormwater runoff. The city's Green City, Clean Waters Plan includes methods to transform traditional "gray infrastructure" to "green infrastructure" as a means to revitalize the city's rivers and streams, reduce sewer overflows and increase overall community health and quality of life. This collaboration allows Philadelphia to use EPA's integrated planning approach and technical expertise to measure cost-effectiveness and long-term benefits of various green infrastructure technologies, all the while building on the city's many sustainability achievements to date.

The City of Denver has actively worked with a variety of federal, non-profit and community partners to clean and restore the South Platte River, a critical urban amenity at the heart of the city. Working with partners such as the EPA and The Greenway Foundation, whose Executive Director Jeff Shoemaker was recently awarded the "White House Champions of Change for Greening our Cities and Towns," Mayor Hancock and his team have focused on water quality improvements to make the South Platte River fishable and swimmable once again. The city is working to remediate Superfund and brownfield sites throughout the watershed in order to prevent further pollution of the river. The city's continued partnership with a variety of organizations has allowed for a holistic approach to cleaning and maintaining the South Platte River.

Cities across the nation are finding creative and comprehensive methods to manage stormwater runoff, repair aging infrastructure and improve water quality. Given the relevance of local history, local water demands and geographical considerations, efforts to transition to a more sustainable water infrastructure system are often uniquely site-specific. In light of the 40th anniversary of the CWA, NLC applauds the efforts of cities around the country, and encourages city leaders to reflect on ways that sustainable water infrastructure can continue to be a national and local priority.

Details: Visit to learn more about activities, events and resources from the EPA in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Additionally, explore sustainable water management resources at the Sustainable Cities Institute, and share your city's efforts with NLC's Sustainability Program at