Thursday, May 1, 2014

Restoring Clean Water Act Protections to Streams and Wetlands

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) recently proposed an important rule restoring Clean Water Act protections to streams and wetlands that protect our drinking water and reduce flooding. Many of these waters have been at increased risk of pollution and destruction for more than a decade because of inconsistent enforcement in the courts. The rule will be open for public comment for 90 days. 

  • These updated safeguards reflect new scientific studies that show protecting these waters are important to down-stream consumers.
  • Tributary streams and a wide variety of wetlands and other waters are critical to the condition of America’s waterways.
  • The rule preserves existing exemptions for normal farming, mining and forestry activities for the production of food, fuel and fiber. This clean water rule clearly excludes certain upland ditches, ponds, and irrigation systems. 

The Sierra Club is joined by scores of industry, conservation, hunting and fishing organizations to support this “waters of the United States” rule, which will bolster the Clean Water Act’s legal and scientific foundation, provide greater long-term clarity for landowners and protect the streams, wetlands and other waters that feed our Nation’s rivers, lakes and bays. 
Why Streams and Wetlands Need Protection Now 

Before 2001: Virtually all streams, wetlands, lakes and other natural water bodies were covered under the Clean Water Act in accordance with congressional intent and the long-standing Corps and EPA definitions of “waters of the United States.” The important physical, chemical and biological connections between upstream wetlands and tributaries and downstream navigable waters were accepted and presumed to exist. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected industry arguments that wetlands were not “waters of the United States,” deferring to the experts at EPA and the Corps to identify water resources the law must protect to serve the law’s clean water goals. 

Since 2001: Later Supreme Court decisions, along with subsequent agency guidance issued in 2003 and 2008, called into question the status of upstream tributaries and wetlands and, as a result, have jeopardized critical water resources and fish and wildlife habitat. Taken together, these decisions have: 
  • Threatened drinking water supplies. Headwater and intermittently-flowing streams feed into the public drinking water systems of more than 117 million Americans.
  • Removed protections for 20 million acres of wetlands, including prairie potholes and other seasonal wetlands that provide important flood protection and essential wildlife habitat nationwide.
  • Put at risk 59% of all stream miles in the continental United States. Many of these streams provide critical habitat for countless fish, especially trout.
  • Put at risk the people, businesses and industries that rely on clean water: Everyone wants to drink clean, pure water. Brewers advertise the purity of their source water. Fish need clean water. Anglers alone generated nearly $115 billion in economic activity in 2011, breathing life into rural communities and supporting more than one million jobs.
  • Polluted water costs consumers billions of dollars a year. 

Ensuring a Clean Water Future 

The proposed rule clarifies protections for about two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands and other waters not currently receiving full protection under the Clean Water Act. Recent scientific studies show that these waters have a significant physical, chemical, or biological connection to traditionally navigable or interstate waters. When finalized, this “waters of the United States” rule will bolster the Clean Water Act’s legal and scientific foundation, provide greater long-term clarity, and protect the streams, wetlands and other waters that feed our Nation’s rivers, lakes and bays. 

Click here to download a printable postcard that you can mail to EPA Administrator McCarthy and U.S Army Corps of Engineers Lieutenant General Thomas P. Bostick. 

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