The new rule has been a long time in the making. Citizens and activists have campaigned for more than half a century to win baseline protections for the rivers, lakes, and streams where we fish, swim, and get our drinking water.
In the late 1960’s, our water resources were in trouble. In Ohio, the Cuyahoga River caught on fire. Bacteria levels in the Hudson River were 170 times safe levels. Pollution from food processing plants in Florida killed a record 26 million fish. In all, two-thirds of the nation’s waters were too polluted for fishing or swimming.
Citizens and politicians of all stripes banded together in 1972 to pass the Clean Water Act, overcoming polluters who had used our waterways as their personal sewers with little to no consequence. The law declared that all waterways would be “fishable and swimmable” in the next decade.
Our waters got cleaner after the passage of the Clean Water Act. The rapid loss of our wetlands began to slow. From the Hudson, to the Charles, to the Great Lakes, to the Puget Sound, rivers and lakes began to be restored to health. The number of rivers and lakes clean enough for fishing and swimming doubled.
But too many developers, oil and gas companies, and industrial polluters were violating their permits. They filed lawsuits to weaken the Clean Water Act. They prevailed in the Supreme Court in 2001 and again in 2006, creating loopholes that left 20 million acres of wetlands and more than half of America’s streams without guaranteed protections under federal law.
The impact of the polluters’ court victory was real. One example: ProPublica reported that an oil company dumped thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Texas, and the federal government couldn’t issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require cleanup. In a four-year span, the loophole prevented the U.S. EPA from moving forward with more than 1,500 investigations of companies that spilled oil, toxic chemicals and bacteria into streams, according to an analysis by The New York Times. Wetlands, once on the rebound, begin to disappear once more.
That’s why environmental groups, fishing and boating groups, elected officials and more began a decade-long push to restore protections to streams that feed drinking water supplies for one in every three Americans.
The Clean Water Act is on the verge of restoration. In March 2014, the Obama administration proposed a rule to close the Clean Water Act loophole and ensure protections for all of the nation’s waterways once and for all.
People rallied in support. Farmers, boaters, fishers, mayors, brewers, clean water groups and all manner of Americans delivered more than 800,000 comments in favor of the restored protections. Scientists weighed in with more than 1,000 studies, verifying that the health of the Chesapeake Bay, the Everglades and the Colorado River depends in part on the streams and wetlands that flow into them.
Now, the Clean Water Rule must get past the polluters who poked holes in the Clean Water Act in the first place: the developers who pave over our wetlands; the oil and gas companies that run thousands of miles of pipelines through our marshes; and the factory farms that dump manure into our streams.
And each of these challengers has allies in Congress who are more determined than ever to block clean water protections. The U.S. House has voted multiple times to overturn the Clean Water Rule, most recently two weeks ago. This summer, the Senate could vote to thwart the rule with a simple majority, setting up a veto battle with the president.
But with the backing of 80 percent of the voting public and your help, we can get the Clean Water Rule across the finish line, at last. Join us as we thank President Obama. Then tell your senators to choose clean water– for the sake of our rivers, lakes, and for our families’ health.
Here’s a release from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):
Anglers in Colorado support a new rule announced today that restores protections for America’s headwater streams under the Clean Water Act.
“The waters this rule protects are the sources of our nation’s coldest, cleanest water,” said Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood.
“Not only do they provide the needed spawning and rearing habitat for our trout and salmon, they are the sources of our iconic rivers and streams—they provide the water we all use downstream. The EPA and the Corps were right to craft this thoughtful rule in a way that protects our headwaters and our fish, but also protects the downstream uses of our nation’s water.”
Wood said the rule doesn’t require any new actions on the part of existing water users, but it does require anyone wishing to pursue a new development that impacts small streams to get a permit to do so.
The rule restores protections to America’s headwater streams that were removed after two politically charged Supreme Court decisions in the 2000s. The court ruled that there must be a proven nexus between these small, sometimes-intermittent waters and the larger rivers they feed in order for the former to receive Clean Water Act protections. Armed with the science that proves such a connection, the EPA and the Corps crafted this rule that simply protects the clean water sources of America’s rivers.
“Colorado is a headwaters state, and we understand the importance of protecting the sources of our great western rivers,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “The new rule restores long-standing protections to these small streams and wetlands, which ensure healthy waters downstream and support our state’s $9 billion outdoor recreation economy. Anglers understand that healthy rivers depend on healthy tributaries—this rule simply acknowledges that reality.”
“TU members in Colorado are grateful to the Corps, the EPA and the Obama administration for developing the new rule, and we are thankful to many members of Congress who have defended it from attack,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project. “The rule is the product of many months of consultation and input from Americans and Congress. The agencies listened to the concerns of diverse interests and found an approach that will ensure clean water for our communities,
industry, farms and ranches, and environment.”
“This is a rule for everyone,” Wood continued. “The most important thing this rule does is restore Clean Water Act protections to headwater streams, and that means the world to anglers who understand the importance of these waters to their success in the field. But these waters are important to everyone, not just anglers. If you turn on a tap, this rule helps make sure the water that comes out is clean and
More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
An extraordinarily active weather pattern led to flood intensification across the central and southern Plains, culminating in a Memorial Day weekend deluge. The latest round of heavy rain pushed Oklahoma to its wettest month on record, based on preliminary data, supplanting October 1941. Showery weather extended beyond the Plains, reaching into the lower Mississippi Valley, parts of the upper Midwest, and much of the northern Intermountain West. Meanwhile, drier-than-normal conditions dominated much of the eastern U.S., where diminishing soil moisture began to have some adverse effects on pastures and summer crops. In contrast, beneficial rain dampened some of the hard-hit drought areas of the Far West, including parts of Oregon, Nevada, and northern California…
Mostly dry weather returned to North Dakota, but the remainder of the nation’s mid-section continued to receive substantial rainfall. A small pocket of moderate to severe drought (D1 to D2) persisted from northeastern Nebraska into eastern South Dakota. Otherwise, the Plains were free of severe drought, with only a few remaining pockets of moderate drought—largely due to lingering hydrological concerns. In Texas, reservoirs were collectively 82.0% full by May 27, up from 73.2% a month ago and 62.5% six months ago. In the last month, reservoir storage in Texas has increased 2.77 million acre-feet.
By May 26, month-to-date rainfall totals climbed to 18.97 inches in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and 14.53 inches in Wichita Falls, Texas. In both locations, those values represent the highest monthly totals on record. Previously, Oklahoma City’s wettest month had been June 1989, with 14.66 inches, while Wichita Falls’ had been May 1982, with 13.22 inches. Oklahoma City’s total was boosted by a daily-record total (3.73 inches) on May 23, part of a broad heavy rain event that led to catastrophic flash flooding in portions of the south-central U.S. In Texas, for example, preliminary USGS data indicated that the Blanco River at Wimberly rose more than 35 feet in less than 8 hours, cresting on May 24 at 27.21 feet above flood stage. The preliminary high-water mark at Wimberly was 6.91 feet above the previous record set on May 28, 1929. The San Marcos River near Martinsdale, Texas, surged more than 51 feet in less than 24 hours on May 23-24, based on initial data…
Similar to the previous drought-monitoring period, Western precipitation boosted topsoil moisture and eased irrigation requirements, but in many states provided negligible relief from long-term, hydrological drought. However, in areas where long-term drought was less deeply entrenched, particularly in Wyoming, Colorado, and parts of neighboring states, the recent and ongoing wet spell has put a meaningful dent in the drought.
While most of the West has experienced an unusually cool, wet May, warmth has prevailed from the Pacific Northwest to the northern Rockies. As a result, an emerging area of short-term dryness (D0) has begun to appear near the Canadian border as far east as northwestern Montana…
During the next 5 days, the western U.S. will experience a warming trend, while near- to above-normal temperatures will continue in the East. In contrast, very cool weather will cover much of the Plains and Midwest. Meanwhile, heavy rain (locally 2 to 4 inches) will lead to additional flooding across the southeastern Plains and western Gulf Coast region. A broader area of the Plains and Midwest will receive 1 to 2 inches, with locally higher totals. Similar amounts can be expected in the eastern U.S., except along the southern Atlantic Coast. Elsewhere, showers in the Rockies and Intermountain West will contrast with warm, dry weather in the Pacific Coast States and the Desert Southwest.
The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for June 2 – 6 calls for the likelihood of near- to above-normal temperatures and precipitation across much of the nation. Enhanced odds of cooler-than-normal conditions will be limited to parts of Texas, while drier-than-normal weather will be limited to the Pacific Northwest and the northern Intermountain West.
From May 22 to May 25, visitors browsed the dozens of vendors, watched and cheered on competitors and took to the water or trails themselves.
Aside from locals, PaddleFest drew in many people from outside of Chaffee County. Colorado Springs resident Anna Durham came to attend her first PaddleFest and was happy to take part in the Kayak Stroke Clinic at Town Lake.
Some visitors to Buena Vista didn’t realize PaddleFest was happening over the weekend. “We came down for the hot springs and didn’t even realize what was going on. But it’s a good surprise,” said Fort Collins resident Jillian Drobnick as she watched the BV Pro Rodeo whitewater semifinals.
One of the many vendors present, Colorado Search and Rescue, was ready to both inform visitors about their services and provide rescue throw bags on the water when necessary. Search and Rescue representative Kurt Miller was happy to see such good participation in the events, as well as a great turnout for PaddleFest overall.
Participants were all too happy to get involved. Evergreen resident Leda Olmstead came for the opportunity to river race and surf. “It’s really fun,” she said. “The weather’s gorgeous now. … Lots of awesome people. Nothing to dislike.”
Dan Buehler and family from Parker got into the trail and bike racing May 24. Buehler placed third in the Rule the Roost Mountain Bike Race. “It was good,” he said. “It’s a great trail. It’s the first year (for the bike race) so it’ll grow on pretty well. Pretty challenging and lots of single track.”
Earl Richmond, co-owner of CKS and co-founder of PaddleFest, proclaims this event to be “the best PaddleFest ever” according to comments from the community. “The reason is we had an amazingly good turnout, lots of people having lots of fun, the weather held out just fine and everyone pitched in and volunteered their time to make it a very successful weekend.”
New federal rules designed to better protect small streams, tributaries and wetlands — and the drinking water of 117 million Americans — are being criticized by Republicans and farm groups as going too far.
The White House says the rules, issued Wednesday, will provide much-needed clarity for landowners about which waterways must be protected against pollution and development. But House Speaker John Boehner declared they will send “landowners, small businesses, farmers, and manufacturers on the road to a regulatory and economic hell.”
Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., released a similar statement Wednesday, calling the rules widely opposed and terribly harmful to the economy of rural Colorado.
However, northern Colorado farmer and president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Kent Peppler called the rules common sense in a news release the same day.
The rules, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, aim to clarify which smaller waterways fall under federal protection after two Supreme Court rulings left the reach of the Clean Water Act uncertain. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the waters affected would be only those with a “direct and significant” connection to larger bodies of water downstream that are already protected.
“I’m furious that the President has once again taken unilateral action that is widely opposed by business and agriculture alike,” Buck said in his statement. “He is out of control, and I will do everything in my power to rein him in.
“WOTUS is terribly harmful for the economy of rural Colorado and a disaster for small business across America.”
Peppler, however, had a different reaction.
“Clean water is essential for farmers and ranchers, and for the production of healthful food,” he said in a news release. “The Administration’s new Clean Water Rule again protects upstream water sources and downstream producers, and ensures reliable, clean water for our farms and families. This rule also continues existing exemptions for day-to-day farm operations. This is common-sense rulemaking.”
The Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 left 60 percent of the nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands without clear federal protection, according to EPA, causing confusion for landowners and government officials.
The new rules would kick in and force a permitting process only if a business or landowner took steps to pollute or destroy covered waters.
EPA says the rules will help landowners understand exactly which waters fall under the Clean Water Act. For example, a tributary must show evidence of flowing water to be protected — such as a bank or a high water mark.
President Barack Obama said that while providing that clarity for business and industry, the rules “will ensure polluters who knowingly threaten our waters can be held accountable.”
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union members worked with EPA during the comment period. Farmers and ranchers from Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming voiced their concerns and recommendations on how the rules might help, or hurt, farmers and ranchers, according to the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union. “We were at the table during this process,” Peppler said in the new release. “Others who chose to fight EPA at every step failed to address the much bigger issue: EPA has responsibility to protect America’s water supply from being harmed by the irresponsible actions of landowners and corporations.”
“While the new rule is not perfect, it will restore an overdue measure of certainty for farmers and ranchers,” he said.
There is deep opposition from the Republican-led Congress and from farmers and other landowners concerned that every stream, ditch and puddle on their private land could now be subject to federal oversight. The House voted to block the regulations earlier this month, and a Senate panel is planning to consider a similar bill this summer.
House Speaker Boehner called the rules “a raw and tyrannical power grab.”
EPA’s McCarthy has acknowledged the proposed regulations last year were confusing, and she said the final rules were written to be clearer. She said the regulations don’t create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and even add new exemptions for artificial lakes and ponds and water-filled depressions from construction, among other features.
These efforts were “to make clear our goal is to stay out of agriculture’s way,” McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said in a blog on the EPA website.
The American Farm Bureau Federation has led opposition to the rules, saying they could make business more difficult for farmers. The group said Wednesday that it would wait to review the final rules before responding.
The agriculture industry has been particularly concerned about the regulation of drainage ditches on farmland. The EPA and Army Corps said the only ditches that would be covered under the rule are those that look, act and function like tributaries and carry pollution downstream.
Another farm group, the National Farmers Union, said it still has some concerns about the impact on farmers but is pleased with the increased clarity on ditches, “removing a gray area that has caused farmers and ranchers an incredible amount of concern.”
The federal government Wednesday finalized a long-anticipated rule that would ramp up protection against pollution of streams, wetlands and other waterways — winning praise but also igniting opposition.
This Clean Water Rule is meant to clarify federal power, particularly in Western states such as Colorado, where 68 percent of streams are seasonal ones for which protection has been uncertain.
The rule, announced by Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, won’t require new permits, she said, but it gives federal officials jurisdiction to crack down on polluters.
“This rule will make it easier to identify protected waters,” McCarthy said in a conference call with reporters. “This rule will not get in the way of agriculture.”
But some Colorado farmers and a national coalition of industry groups oppose it. They’ve asked Congress to intervene and are considering legal challenges.
EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulators “are saying that if somebody decides that what you are doing on your land has an impact on what they call ‘waters of the United States,’ then the EPA has jurisdiction. If a private citizen complains about it, the EPA has a duty and responsibility to investigate and pursue the case,” Colorado Farm Bureau president Don Shawcroft said. “It means the EPA potentially is looking over our shoulder about everything we do — even for small seasonal streams and during heavy rain.”
EPA officials said 68 percent of streams in Colorado are seasonal or rain-dependent and that these now will be protected as long as they show signs of flowing and affect downstream waters.
The rule is designed to end uncertainty created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that left small streams, headwaters and wetlands in limbo.
Those decisions suggested that waterways not entirely within one state, creeks that only contain water at certain times of year, and lakes not linked to larger water systems might not qualify as “navigable waters” and might not be covered under the 1972 Clean Water Act. The concern is that pollution of flowing waterways can make its way into sources of drinking water.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet on Wednesday didn’t take a position. Bennet “looks forward to reviewing this new rule and hopes it will be workable for Colorado,” a Bennet spokesman said. “He’s heard from farmers and ranchers, sportsmen, water providers and local governments who are all asking for the certainty a balanced rule can provide.”
While farm bureaus decried EPA overreach, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler called the rule a common-sense approach to protecting upstream water and downstream producers of food.
Dozens of Colorado organizations and leaders are polarized in their opinions just moments after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule that would protect hundreds of West Slope streams from pollution…
Environmentalists such as Conservation Colorado and Environment Colorado have hailed the decision as a victory.
“President Obama’s Clean Water Rule re-establishes important protections that fight pollution and keep Colorado’s drinking water, rivers, wetlands and tributaries clean,” said the executive director of Conservation Colorado in a press release.
But the issue is quickly dividing the political landscape. On the other side of the river, Colorado Senator Cory Gardner and West Slope Representative Scott Tipton have denounced the plan as a federal encroachment on water rights.
“This rule represents a massive expansion of federal power and puts the EPA in a ludicrous position of acting as the main regulator of ponds, ditches, and even intermittent streams across the country, said Sen. Gardner in a press release.
There are approximately 77 significant streams in Mesa County and Montrose County.
There’s still a 60 day waiting period before the Clean Water Rule would go into effect. The Republican controlled U.S. House has already passed a bill that would strip the new authority from the EPA.
Conservation Colorado Executive Director Pete Maysmith released the following statement on the Obama Administration issuing the “Clean Water Rule”, which re-establishes critical clean water protections for America’s rivers and streams:
“Today is an important day for Colorado’s most precious resource— our water. President Obama’s Clean Water Rule re-establishes important protections that fight pollution and keep Colorado’s drinking water, rivers, wetlands and tributaries clean. Coloradans cherish their clean water and understand that it is critical to our economy. Protecting the health of our children and grandchildren who drink, swim, and play in our waterways is vital to Colorado’s future. Recent polling shows that over 85% of voters support these new clean water rules which will protect the water of 1 in 3 Americans. We congratulate President Obama for restoring these important protections and standing up for healthy, clean water.”
Here’s the release from the EPA and USACE (Gina McCarthy/Jo-Ellen Darcy):
Today, EPA and the Army finalized a rule under the Clean Water Act to protect the streams and wetlands we depend on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.
The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways that were choked by industrial pollution, untreated sewage, and garbage for decades.
But Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 put protection of 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands into question. At the same time, we understand much more today about how waters connect to each other than we did in decades past. Scientists, water quality experts, and local water managers are better able than ever before to pinpoint the waters that impact our health and the environment the most.
Members of Congress, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, hunters, anglers, and the public have called on EPA and the Army to make a rule to clarify where the Clean Water Act applies, and bring it in line with the law and the latest science. Today, we’re answering that call.
Every lake and every river depends on the streams and wetlands that feed it—and we can’t have healthy communities downstream without healthy headwaters upstream. The Clean Water Rule will protect streams and wetlands and provide greater clarity and certainty to farmers, all without creating any new permitting requirements for agriculture and while maintaining all existing exemptions and exclusions.
The agencies did extensive outreach on the Clean Water Rule, hosting more than 400 meetings across the country and receiving more than a million public comments. EPA officials visited farms in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont.
Our nation’s original conservationists—our farmers, ranchers, and foresters—were among the most crucial voices who weighed in during this process. Farmers have a critical job to do; our nation depends on them for food, fiber, and fuel, and they depend on clean water for their livelihoods.
Normal farming and ranching—including planting, harvesting, and moving livestock—have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. It respects producers’ crucial role in our economy and respects the law. We’d like give a few more specifics on our final rule, starting with what it doesn’t do.
The rule doesn’t add any new permitting requirements for agriculture.
It doesn’t protect new kinds of waters that the Clean Water Act didn’t historically cover. It doesn’t regulate most ditches and excludes groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, and tile drains. And it doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.
It doesn’t touch land use or private property rights. The Clean Water Rule only deals with the pollution and destruction of waterways.
Again, our rule doesn’t touch long-standing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. It specifically recognizes the crucial role farmers play and actually adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales.
What the rule does is simple: it protects clean water, and it provides clarity on which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act so they can be protected from pollution and destruction.
Feedback from the agricultural community led us to define tributaries more clearly. The rule is precise about the streams being protected so that it can’t be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field. The rule says a tributary has to show physical features of flowing water to warrant protection.
We also got feedback that our proposed definition of ditches was confusing. We’re only interested in the ones that act like tributaries and could carry pollution downstream—so we changed the definition in the final rule to focus on tributaries. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.
We’ve also provided certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters—the rule sets physical, measurable limits for the first time. For example, an adjacent water is protected if it’s within the 100-year floodplain and within 1,500 feet of a covered waterway. By setting bright lines, agricultural producers and others will know exactly where the Clean Water Act applies, and where it doesn’t.
Farmers and ranchers work hard every day to feed America and the world. In this final rule, we’ve provided additional certainty that they’ll retain all of their Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions—so they can continue to do their jobs, and continue to be conservation leaders.
We appreciate everyone’s input as we’ve worked together to finalize a Clean Water Rule that keeps pollution out of our water, while providing the additional clarity our economy needs. Learn more with this fact sheet.
More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.
“Overall, 10 million acre-feet of water rises in the mountains of Colorado, annually,” speaker Jay Gallagher told his audience. “The state’s population will grow to 8.5 or perhaps 9 million people over the next 50 years, but we’re facing a flat-lining water supply. And 40 million people are sustained by Colorado River water. It’s a big deal. It’s our lifeblood It’s a hard-working river.”
Gallagher is general manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District in Steamboat Springs, but also sits on the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which is charged with assembling an overall state water plan from reports submitted by river basins all over the state. He was joined by Jackie Brown, district manager of the Routt County Conservation District.
Brown serves on the Yampa/White/Green river basin roundtable, which will contribute its own goals for water management to the CWCB for consideration in the statewide plan.
The rain that fell Tuesday night in the midst of what has turned out to be the wettest month of May on record in Steamboat Springs (6.33 inches of rain compared to the normal 2.24 inches for the month) amounts to an asterisk in a 35-year water plan, and there is a sense of urgency in the process, according to the speakers…
The big water buffalo in the room, however, was the possibility that powerful Front Range water interests will succeed in influencing the water plan to include a new trans-mountain diversion (TMD) of water from Colorado’s Western Slope to the rapidly growing Eastern Slope.
It was State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush who put the possible implications of a new TMD for Western Colorado on the table. She serves on the Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources Committee that will review the new water plan at the legislature.
“The South Platte and Metro Roundtable has a TMD right up front (in its water plan). Their first solution (to closing the water supply gap) is a TMD. How do you see that playing out in an agreement?” she asked Gallagher.
He responded that the new water plan won’t represent policy, but instead, will set guiding principles for establishing new policies in the future.
A new TMD, “would still have to go through questions about ‘who does it benefit?’” Gallagher said. “And one of the tenets of water policy is ‘Do no harm.’”
Mary Brown, another member of the Yampa/White/Green Roundtable, added that intense negotiation is taking place among representatives of each basin in the state over seven criteria — playfully called the “Seven Points of Light” — that would frame decision making about any new TMD. One of the points being debated would require the developers of a new multi-billion TMD to assume ultimate hydrological risk. That implies the TMD would be junior to all other water rights on the river system. And that, in return, would raise significant questions about whether the diversion could be depended upon to support growth on the Front Range.
Brown and Gallagher agreed after the meeting that most Front Range water districts would prefer any other means of expanding water supply to a TMD. However, failure to put a TMD on the table would be politically unpalatable among their constituents.