Clean Water Action




Tax ID:


DUNS Number:


Tax-Exempt Status:


Budget (2018):

Revenue: $8,829,774
Expenses: $8,332,314
Assets: $1,642,704




Robert Wendelgass


Environmentalist Advocate

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Clean Water Action (CWA) is a left-of-center environmentalist organization which focuses on increasing the regulation of waterways in the United States. The organization was founded by activist David Zwick, one of the original authors of the Clean Water Act of 1972. Despite its environmentalist focus, CWA has begun to branch out into advocating for other left-of-center policy goals, including loosening restrictions on voting and combatting racism. CWA has been opposed to the use of zero carbon nuclear energy.  1 2

CWA has organized grassroots campaigns to support environmentalist referendums and legislation. It is best known for launching and supporting various lawsuits against environmental agencies at the federal and state levels. CWA twice sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under former President Donald Trump. 3

CWA’s sister group is the Clean Water Fund, a charitable organization. The organizations run Clean Wave, a left-of-center political action committee. 4


In the early 1970s, David Zwick was a second-year law student at Harvard Law School when far-left activist and future Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader came to campus to recruit “Nader’s Raiders,” a cohort of activists who supported Nader’s environmentalist proposals. Zwick helped organize protests and advocacy campaigns in support of environmentalist causes until he eventually decided to specialize in water environmentalism. In 1971, Zwick co-authored “Water Wasteland,” a report on water pollution in the United States which was published by Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law. 5

In 1972, Zwick founded the Fishermen’s Clean Water Action Project (which would later become Clean Water Action) to support the creation of the Clean Water Act, a comprehensive set of left-of-center laws meant to regulate American waterways. The organization led door-to-door canvassing to raise popular support for the Clean Water Act. Shortly after founding the Fishermen’s Clean Water Action Project, Zwick helped Congress write the Clean Water Act. 6

In 1974, Zwick and the Fishermen’s Clean Water Action Project helped push the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. 7

In 1986, CWA worked with the National Campaign Against Toxic Hazards and the Nader-affiliated United States Public Interest Research Group (US-PIRG) to write a report criticizing the EPA for allegedly failing to enforce the federal toxic waste cleanup program. The EPA responded by promising to recommit to the program. 8

In 2007, Zwick stepped down from his role as president of Clean Water Action. 9 In 2018, Zwick died due to complications from heart failure, and the CWA set up the David Zwick Fund in his name. The Fund recruits and trains left-of-center activists. 10


In 2008, Clean Water Action and Earthjustice sued the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for failing to enforce water protection laws after fracking wastewater leaked into the Monongahela River, a source of drinking water. CWA and Earthjustice won the lawsuit, forcing the waste treatment facility to stop discharging water until it could operate in compliance with DEP regulations. 11

In 2019, CWA, the National Resource Defense Council, and the Environmental Justice Health Alliance sued the EPA for failing to pass regulations to require hazardous waste disposal facilities to create plans to deal with large spills. The lawsuit alleged that the EPA’s failure to act violated a 1990 act of Congress which required the agency to introduce the regulations. 12

In 2020, CWA and Earthjustice filed another lawsuit against the EPA for weakening rules designed to protect waterways from coal ash contamination. In 2015, the EPA under the Obama administration introduced new rules to regulate coal ash clean up at coal power plants. The EPA under the Trump administration relaxed these rules to reduce costs for coal companies. 13

In March 2021, CWA joined the City of Philadelphia in a lawsuit against Pennsylvania to prohibit the state legislature from forcing localities to delay the implementation of environmentalist regulations. In December 2019, Philadelphia banned the use of plastic bags, but the state legislature has repeatedly delayed the implementation of the ban to avoid causing additional economic distress during the COVID-19 pandemic. 14


Microplastic Ban

For three years, CWA campaigned to support California Assembly Bill 888, which sought to ban the use of plastic microbeads in lawncare. CWA members sent thousands of letters to state legislators and then-Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA). The bill passed in 2015. 15

2020 Presidential Election

CWA endorsed President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. The organization condemned the Trump administration, claiming that it had been “dismantling” the Clean Water Act, accelerating climate change, and killing 400,000 Americans because it “never bothered to truly try to control the [COVID 19] pandemic.” 16

For the People Act

CWA supports the For the People Act, an omnibus left-of-center bill which would federalize national election administration, require states to have at least two weeks of early voting before Election Day, ban voter identification requirements, and provide government funding to political campaigns. CWA claims the Act will hinder corporate interests and allow the government to more effectively combat climate change and other environmental concerns. 17

Washington, D.C. Statehood

CWA endorses the Washington, D.C. Admission Act for Statehood, a bill which would make Washington, D.C. the 51st state in the United States. CWA has claimed that Washington, D.C. deserves statehood because it pays federal taxes but has no congressional representation, while critics have alleged that the push for statehood is motivated by Democratic partisan efforts to gain more federal legislative power, particularly in the U.S. Senate. 18

Governor Gavin Newsom Recall

CWA has opposed the recall of California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) which is on the ballot in 2021. CWA has claimed that the attempt to recall Governor Newsom is based on partisanship. CWA has argued that Gov. Newsom has not violated any law or responsibility of office and therefore should not be recalled. CWA had previously endorsed Gov. Newsom’s plan to ban fracking by 2025 and phase out oil production by 2045. 19

Opposition to Nuclear Energy

During July 2021, Clean Water Action opposed the construction of new nuclear energy power plants in Minnesota. State lawmakers were considering a proposal to remove a moratorium on the construction of nuclear energy facilities, but the proposal did not pass. In a year end wrap up, Clean Water Action celebrated the failure of the proposal, and asserted that nuclear power was “not the solution to a clean energy future.” 20

Nuclear power plants produce no carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gas emissions, and as of 2021 accounted for 19 percent of American electricity production—the largest source of zero carbon electricity in the United States. 21 An October 2018 proposal from The Nature Conservancy noted that zero-carbon nuclear plants

“Combatting Oppression and Ending Racism”

Despite being focused on water environmentalism, CWA has also committed itself recently to “combatting oppression and ending racism.” In 2015 and 2018, the organization’s board made a series of commitments to this goal, including increasing the percentage of ethnic minorities on the CWA board to 35% of all members and the percentage of ethnic minorities on the CWA staff to 30%. As of June 2020, the board had reached 38%, though the staff had only reached 25%. The organization also established a “diversity council” to monitor its diversity objectives. 22

Political Contributions

Employees of Clean Water Action have contributed almost $383,000 to political candidates since 1990, with the overwhelming majority of funds going to Democrats. In the 2020 election cycle, CWA employees donated $31,256, with over 99% going to Democrats. The largest recipient was Clean Wave, CWA’s PAC, which received $20,500. President Biden received $7,688 from CWA employees and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) received $7,326. 23


  1. “Our commitment to combatting oppression and ending racism.” Clean Water Action. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  2. “Session finally ends in Minnesota with wins for Clean Water!” Clean Water Action. July 1, 2021. Accessed August 2, 2023.
  3. Beans, Laura. “Victory in Fracking Wastewater Fight in PA.” Eco Watch. August 7, 2013. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  4. “Clean Water Action.” Open Secrets. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  5. Genzlinger, Neil. “David Zwick, a Leading Clean-Water Advocate, Dies at 75.” New York Times. February 22, 2018. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  6. Genzlinger, Neil. “David Zwick, a Leading Clean-Water Advocate, Dies at 75.” New York Times. February 22, 2018. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  7. Genzlinger, Neil. “David Zwick, a Leading Clean-Water Advocate, Dies at 75.” New York Times. February 22, 2018. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  8. “Superfund Cleanups Termed Lax.” New York Times. November 24, 1987. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  9. “The David Zwick Fund.” Clean Water Action. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  10. “The David Zwick Fund.” Clean Water Action. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  11. Beans, Laura. “Victory in Fracking Wastewater Fight in PA.” Eco Watch. August 7, 2013. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  12. “Clean Water Action Joins NRDC and Other Partners Sue EPA Over Decades-Long Failure to Protect Communities from Most Dangerous Chemical Spills.” Clean Water Action. March 21, 2019. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  13. Cmar, Thomas. “Stopping the EPA’s Attack on Clean Water Protections.” Earthjustice. November 2, 2020. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  14. “Clean Water Action Backs Philadelphia as it Takes on Pennsylvania in Court Over Plastics Ban.” Clean Water Action. March 3, 2021. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  15. Ventura, Andria. “Victory: California’s new plastic microbead ban is nation’s strongest.” Clean Water Action. October 9, 2015. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  16. Kelly, Michael. “Marching Forward Together – Thoughts on the Inauguration of Joe Biden.” Clean Water Action. January 20, 2021. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  17. “Tell the Senate: Pass the for the People Act!” Clean Water Action. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  18. “DC Statehood.” Clean Water Action. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  19. “Clean Water Action Statement on Governor Newsom’s Executive Order to Phase Out Oil Production.” Clean Water Action. April 23, 2021. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  20. “Session finally ends in Minnesota with wins for Clean Water!” Clean Water Action. July 1, 2021. Accessed August 2, 2023.
  21. “Nuclear explained.” U.S. Energy Information Administration. Accessed July 25, 2023.
  22. “Our commitment to combatting oppression and ending racism.” Clean Water Action. Accessed June 5, 2021.
  23. “Clean Water Action.” Open Secrets. Accessed June 5, 2021.
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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: November 1, 1973

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2018 Dec Form 990 $8,829,774 $8,332,314 $1,642,704 $1,046,429 N $8,524,042 $285,197 $637 $104,591 PDF
    2017 Dec Form 990 $8,767,651 $8,174,442 $1,048,165 $977,987 N $8,709,254 $38,743 $12 $80,111
    2016 Dec Form 990 $8,026,928 $8,040,421 $632,504 $1,166,123 N $7,899,669 $81,361 $219 $49,103
    2015 Dec Form 990 $8,240,346 $8,996,726 $644,289 $1,167,363 N $8,068,932 $148,313 $5,704 $119,024 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $9,011,503 $8,804,436 $1,244,752 $1,011,414 N $8,983,324 $0 $24,137 $146,774 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $9,259,868 $8,889,225 $1,103,435 $1,077,164 N $9,240,216 $0 $19,394 $175,057 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $9,338,253 $8,934,284 $886,635 $1,231,007 N $9,348,172 $0 $5,913 $224,292 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $8,251,465 $7,920,902 $433,473 $1,181,814 N $8,258,003 $0 $2,422 $172,195 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    Clean Water Action

    1444 EYE STREET NW NO 400
    WASHINGTON, DC 20005-6538