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The University of Texas at Austin

Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

Conference Paper

Johnson Administration Water Quality Policies: Past and Future

Bess Harris Centennial
Professor in Natural
Resource Policy Studies

Prior to the administration of President Lyndon Johnson (Johnson Administration) the United States (US) Congress and the federal government had not resolved whether water pollution represented a local or regional problem, which cities or states should regulate, or whether the federal government should pre-empt and lead pollution control initiatives. During the Johnson Administration, Congress and the White House cooperated on a series of legislative and appropriation initiatives that established the legitimacy of the federal government leading and partnering to inform and support state and local water quality management. Lyndon Johnson’s administration transformed the process of managing water quality within the US. These changes occurred with respect to environmental quality standards, research, information, administrative support, construction investment, legal and regulatory support, as well as professional leadership. The Johnson Administration created the first modern national program for assurance of water quality. The relationships forged by the Johnson Administration among the federal agencies, states and local governments, and citizens have remained stable over the intervening four decades. This paper argues that the future is likely to be more like the past; although the ‘public perception’ of water quality may change, the institutional and financial architecture developed by the Johnson Administration to protect and enhance water quality will continue following the Johnson Administration’s principles.

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