Kayakers, sportsmen, conservationists deliver 23,887 clean water comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin


Here’s the release from Environment Colorado (Pam Kiely):

As the public comment period comes to a close for the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed guidance on determining whether a waterway is protected by the Clean Water Act, kayakers, conservationists, and sportsmen from across the state gathered Tuesday morning to demonstrate broad-based support for EPA’s efforts, hand-delivering to EPA officials 23,887 comment postcards, photo petitions, letters, and stacks of emails in support of EPA action to keep our state’s waterways clean.

“This summer we’ve heard from tens of thousands of Coloradans,” said Pam Kiely, program director of Environment Colorado, “And the consensus is clear— people support strong EPA action to fully protect the creeks and rivers they’re rafting, kayaking, swimming, and fishing in all summer long.”

Over the past decade, interpretations of Supreme Court rulings have left murky which Colorado waterways are fully protected under the Clean Water Act by removing some critical types of waters from federal protection, causing confusion and uncertainly for regulators and businesses alike about which waters and wetlands are actually protected under the Clean Water Act.

The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have developed draft guidance for determining whether a waterway, water body, or wetland is protected by the Clean Water Act. This guidance would replace previous guidance to reaffirm protection for critical waters, including intermittent, ephemeral, or headwater streams. In Colorado, these types of waterways account for 62% of the total river miles that feed into public drinking water supplies; over 3.7 million Coloradans receive their drinking water from a source that is fed by, at least partially, on one of these smaller waterways.

“EPA has laid out a comprehensive plan to maintain and improve the health of our nation’s waters,” said Jim Martin, EPA’s regional administrator in Denver. “A fundamental part of that plan is reaffirming the clear application of the Clean Water Act. The guidance we are proposing will help protect the streams and wetlands that keep Colorado’s watersheds, and the state’s multi-billion dollar recreational economy, healthy.”

The draft guidance will reaffirm protections for small streams that feed into larger streams and rivers, and reaffirm protection for wetlands that filter pollution and help protect communities from flooding. Keeping these smaller waterways safe is critical for the overall health of the watershed.

“Anglers know it takes clean water in small tributaries upstream to create great fishing opportunities on rivers downstream – yet those tributaries are at risk of losing protection under the Clean Water Act,” noted David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “Sportsmen applaud EPA for developing new guidance that will keep these streams protected, so that future generations can continue to enjoy clean fishable waters across Colorado.”

The Guidance currently in place has caused unnecessary confusion and delay in the implementation of the Clean Water Act’s important programs, has interfered with effective enforcement activity and has put drinking water sources for at least 117 million people at risk nationwide. In Colorado alone, protections on over 65,000 miles of streams have been called into question.

Since the Supreme Court decisions in SWANCC and Rapanos and ensuing EPA Guidance documents issued in 2003 and 2008, bodies of water that Congress intended to protect when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 have been put at risk. Congress enacted the Clean Water Act “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters” and existing Guidance documents clearly threaten protection for wetlands, streams and other water bodies that play a critical role in overall health of the nation’s watersheds and drinking water sources.

The full text of the newly proposed guidance can be found at: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm

More coverage from Joe Hanel writing for The Durango Herald. From the article:

The EPA is trying to assert its authority over small, intermittent and headwaters streams after Supreme Court decisions in 2003 and 2008 seemed to limit the Clean Water Act to larger bodies of water. David Nickum, head of the Colorado chapter of Trout Unlimited, said it feels like the Clean Water Act’s protections have been fading the last 10 years after three successful decades. “So many of our rivers and our fisheries depend on healthy headwaters. It’s pretty simple – if you have pollution upstream, it’s going to make its way downstream, and you’re going to have unhealthy rivers,” Nickum said.

Martin said his agency spends too much time trying to figure out whether it has jurisdiction over a stream and not enough time cleaning up or preventing spills. “Ultimately, our goal is to protect the physical and chemical integrity of all of our waters,” Martin said. “We’re going to move forward. This is really important to the protection of clean water in this country.”

A public comment period about the EPA’s clean water proposal closes this week. After that, the agency will have a formal rulemaking period to determine the scope of its authority.

More coverage from David O. Williams writing for the Colorado Independent. From the article:

In another show of force on the water front Tuesday, conservation groups, kayakers and anglers rallied at Confluence Kayaks along the Platte River in downtown Denver and hand delivered 23,887 public comments to EPA Regional Administrator Jim Martin. The comments were in favor of an EPA rulemaking designed to clarify which bodies of water qualify for protection under the Clean Water Act.

While the rulemaking has met with considerable resistance – including from Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation – EPA officials say it’s necessary in the wake of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have muddied the waters on which streams, creeks, ponds, lakes, rivers and wetlands are actually protected under the Clean Water Act.

More coverage from Bruce Finley writing for The Denver Post. From the article:

This [EPA] initiative could double the stream-miles covered in Colorado, where 3.7 million residents receive water from sources connected to unregulated seasonal creeks and streams, which feed seven major rivers that flow through 27 states. Nationwide, water supplies of 117 million Americans are connected to waterways where the EPA currently does not regulate pollution.

Agriculture, mining and homebuilding industry leaders oppose the push, deploying lobbyists who accuse the EPA of overreach that could bog the economy.

“This is really important for protecting clean water in the United States,” EPA regional administrator Jim Martin told supporters rallying Tuesday in Denver at Confluence Kayaks. “We want to get back into the job of preventing pollution.”

Formerly chief of Colorado’s health department, Martin said state regulators lack resources to police streams. Amid current legal uncertainty, EPA officials notified of spills, are paralyzed trying to determine whether waterways qualify for protection – instead of cleaning up pollution, he said. “It makes no sense.”

“If you don’t give the EPA the tools to protect those gullies and deal with spills there, ultimately they will not be able to protect rivers either,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

EPA officials say draft guidelines make exceptions for agricultural producers. Pollution from stock ponds and irrigated croplands that flows into waterways would be exempt from new regulation.

More EPA coverage here.

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