The Biggest Step for Clean Water in a Decade — Margie Alt

Trappers Lake
Trappers Lake

From The Blog: Huffington Post (Margie Alt):

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
fresh.”

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

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