October 2011 marks the 39th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, without which many of our nation’s rivers, streams, and beaches would be flooded with the type of toxic waste that caught fire in Ohio’s Cuyahoga River in 1969. That infamous fire marked the start of the modern environmental movement in the United States. It also inspired the Federal government to step up efforts to ensure proper disposal of wastewater throughout the nation. These efforts included both regulation and Federal funding for states to upgrade and maintain wastewater infrastructure.

We are fortunate in the United States to have strict regulations that ensure proper wastewater disposal. Even though we understand the water cycle of evaporation-condensation and precipitation that we learned in school, sometimes we forget that all water is recycled. That means that whatever toxins go into our wastewater will one day end up in our drinking water. Like with so many things in life, prevention is the best medicine when it comes to keeping water clean.

As we celebrate this 39th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, let’s all remember to do what we can to keep our global shared resource of fresh water clean and free of toxins. It also means being willing to pay for upgraded wastewater treatment infrastructure. Because whether or not the Cuyahoga catches on fire again, some portion of the water flowing down that river will one day end up in your drinking glass.