WASHINGTON (October 22, 2014) – More than 700,000 Americans have written to support a plan to protect streams and wetlands nationwide that are vulnerable to pollution, and today a diverse coalition of conservation organizations and clean water advocates delivered their comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers. The two agencies have proposed a rule that will help fix problematic language in the Clean Water Act that leaves streams, wetlands and other water bodies vulnerable to pollution.
The groups presented the comments in support of clarifying the definition of Waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act to Ken Kopocis, the deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Water, along the banks of the Anacostia River in Bladensburg, Md. The event coincided with the kick-off of Wilderness Inquiry’s “Canoe Mobile” program, which will bring 1,000 children from local schools over the next two weeks to paddle the Anacostia – one of the nation’s Clean Water Act success stories.
“Clean water is too important to our families and the vital habitats for our country's fish and wildlife for its protections to continue to undergo legal limbo,” said U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works, Water and Wildlife Subcommittee. “After two Supreme Court decisions muddied the country's most fundamental water protection law, it’s essential that we restore the Clean Water Act’s clarity through the protections proposed by the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the ‘Waters of the U.S.’ rule.”
This year has seen a cascade of accidents and spills that have compromised the health of America’s rivers and jeopardized drinking water supplies for tens of thousands of people. In January, 300,000 West Virginians were left without drinking water after 7,500 gallons of chemicals spilled into the Elk River. A month later, tens of thousands of tons of coal ash leaked into the Dan River in North Carolina. And this summer, toxic algae fueled by polluted runoff poisoned the water supply of Toledo, a city of 400,000.
Not since the Clean Water Act was passed 42 years ago have America’s lakes, streams and rivers been at greater risk of being polluted. This is largely a result of Supreme Court and Bush administration decisions on the Clean Water Act that left vague and uncertain the status of 60 percent of America’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands, making them vulnerable to pollution and destruction. In fact, one in three Americans – 117 million people – get their drinking water from waters affected by these unprotected sources.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the past 42 years of the Clean Water Act, but incidents like the Toledo drinking water crisis show that we’ve still got a way to go. One thing we can fix right now is restoring Clean Water Act protection to more small streams and wetlands,” said Bob Wendelgass, Clean Water Action President and CEO. “The American people expect their government to protect their water. They do not want some of the interest groups who oppose this rule to be deciding what's best for our water. That’s why more than 700,000 people have spoken up, telling EPA and the Corps that they support the proposed rule to protect small streams and wetlands.”
Securing clean water downstream means there must be protections in place that safeguard healthy headwaters upstream. EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have proposed restoring protections to 2 million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands through the Waters of the U.S. rule (www2.epa.gov/uswaters). The public comment period for the updated safeguards closes Nov. 14.
“As the National Park Service prepares for its 100th anniversary in 2016, we want all park visitors to find clean water when they get there,” said Chad Lord, senior director for water policy at the National Parks Conservation Association. “The health of our national parks is directly linked to the health of the waters that flows in and around them. The Clean Water Protection Rule provides more clear protections for the waters that park visitors want to drink from, swim in, float on, and simply enjoy.”
The groups who presented comments to EPA officials today included: Environment America, Clean Water Action, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Wildlife Federation, League of Conservation Voters, American Rivers and National Parks Conservation Association.
Also making remarks were: Marie Therese Dominquez, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army (Civil Works); Chad Lord, senior director for water policy at the National Parks Conservation Association; Chad Dayton, director of programs and partner relations for Wilderness Inquiry; and James Foster, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society.