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Blog

Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.

 

Congress Shouldn’t Undercut Clean Water Protections

Tania Lown-Hecht

Photo credit: Thomas O'Keefe

Photo credit: Thomas O'Keefe

For paddlers, boaters, sportsmen, backcountry explorers, and anyone who loves to get outside, clean water is tremendously important.

The Clean Water Act, enacted in the 1970’s, has transformed America’s rivers over the last half century. Kevin Colburn, the National Stewardship Director for American Whitewater, writes, “Before the Clean Water Act our rivers were toxic waste dumps. Communities were built facing away from rivers, and the riverside areas of towns were reserved for industry.”

In the early 2000s, two Supreme Court cases greatly complicated the task of determining which bodies of water are protected, and the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers have issued long-awaited Clean Water Rules (which we’ve previously written about here and here) to clarify protections.

The gist of the updates is that EPA and the Corps of Engineers are trying to clarify what bodies of water are subject to the Clean Water Act. As every paddler knows, small streams flow into bigger ones, and keeping our rivers clean and healthy requires protecting not just large rivers, but the smaller streams and headwaters that flow into them.

Based on the Supreme Court decisions, these agencies have updated the rules to keep our waterways safe. This update is important for protecting rivers; they give greater clarity to landowners; and they strike a reasonable compromise about what kinds of bodies of water are protected.

This week, some members of Congress have pushed to block the new rules from taking effect. This is a bad idea, which needlessly leaves our rivers and waterways at risk of pollution and contamination. Fishable, swimmable, drinkable water is a right for all Americans, and no one should have to worry about getting sick from swimming, playing, or boating in our rivers. We hope that those members of Congress who have tried to block these protections will stop their misguided efforts, and that clean water champions will continue to protect the rule from future attacks.