By Karen Schneller-McDonald
Plans afoot in Washington threaten water protection. Recently the Trump administration rescinded the Stream Protection Rule, which protected water quality at mountaintop removal mining sites. Now the President has directed the EPA to review the Clean Water Rule for conflicts with his economic growth agenda, and has begun a two-part plan to rescind the Rule and change the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” in the Clean Water Act.
WHAT’S THE CLEAN WATER RULE?
The Rule is the product of four years of EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers peer-reviewed hydrological studies, interagency reviews, economic analyses and input from a variety of public and private organizations. It updates the federal Clean Water Act by clarifying the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” which determines what water resources qualify for protection under the Act. This was done to address regulatory confusion resulting from several court cases.
One in three Americans gets their drinking water from a source that wouldn’t qualify for protection under proposed changes in the definition of “Waters of the U.S.”
WHAT’S AT STAKE?
The Clean Water Rule clarified the definition while effectively protecting the quality and supply of our water. However, the current administration prefers a much narrower definition that would protect fewer wetlands and streams; up to 60% of our water resources are in jeopardy of losing current protection. One in three Americans gets their drinking water from a source that wouldn’t qualify for protection under proposed changes in the definition.
“This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine “Waters of the U.S.” and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said. The goal is protecting business/corporate interests, not our water. This approach is a reaction to anger by the agriculture and energy industries, which have long said the Clean Water Act gives regulators too much authority.
Up to 60% of our water resources are in jeopardy of losing current protection.
Despite Pruitt’s insistence that the EPA is “taking significant action to return power to the states,” many states lack such protections altogether. New York, for example, doesn’t protect wetlands less than 12.4 acres.
The Act is necessary to protect the water resources we depend on. If anything, these resources need more protection, not less, as our demand for water increases, our output of wastes into water increases, and climate change delivers more intense storms, runoff, and flooding.
Small wetlands and streams are like the capillaries in your body, critical for your health. By reducing protections, the administration in Washington is saying that you don’t need those capillaries—they are insignificant. This disregards the scientific evidence showing us that a network of small wetlands and streams collectively purifies, collects and stores water; maintains human and ecosystem health; reduces effects of storm water runoff and flooding; supports property values and recreation; and sustains food sources.
FIGHT FOR CLEAN WATER!
We all have a right to an adequate supply of clean water. Because water doesn’t conform to state boundaries, water protection requires national regulation of the activities that affect wetlands and streams. This protection will not happen unless we insist on it. Get involved. Write a letter to support retaining the current Clean Water Rule. Challenge this latest plan for proposed rollback of water protection, and stand by for the next battle in this fight.
DATES: Comments must be received on or before August 28, 2017.
ADDRESSES: Submit your comments, identified by Docket ID No. EPA–HQ– OW–2017–0203, at http:// www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
WEBSITE: For details and sample letter, see Trout Unlimited site at http://standup.tu.org/stand-up-for-clean-water/?_ga=2.12647927.1175354039.1501514937-2133905057.1501352238
Karen Schneller-McDonald is the author of Connecting the Drops: A Citizens’ Guide to Protecting Water Resources from Cornell University Press. A wetland and water resources specialist, she is the president of Hickory Creek Consulting LLC.