Small streams across the country provide drinking for millions of Americans and critical fish and wildlife habitat. Wetlands are the first line of defense against flooding that can devastate American communities. Yet the Trump Administration would sweep away Clean Water Act protections for up to 60 percent of U.S. streams and 20 million acres of wetlands, putting them directly in the crosshairs of polluters.
Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972 to improve and protect water quality – and public health – across America. We’ve made dramatic improvements since then because the Clean Water Act limits pollution not just in the largest rivers and lakes but in the small streams that flow into them. For more than 45 years, the most important criteria for protecting a stream or wetland has been how it affects water quality in other water bodies. Today, the Trump Administration proposed basing protections largely on whether a stream flows all year or a wetland touches a lake or river.
“This proposal is fundamentally flawed for one simple reason: it focuses on the wrong criteria – continuous flow of water – rather than protecting water quality in our rivers, lakes, and drinking water reservoirs,” says Scott Kovarovics, Executive Director of the Izaak Walton League of America. “This misguided approach is completely unsupported by science and common sense, and it not only jeopardizes public health, it will undermine the $887 billion outdoor recreation economy.”
Where a stream flows – to reservoirs that supply drinking water for 117 million Americans or lakes and rivers where millions of people enjoy fishing, boating, and swimming – will be irrelevant. If it does not flow continuously, it will likely lose protection from pollution under the Clean Water Act.
Wetland protections would also be based on an arbitrary standard that requires a surface connection to a river or lake. Otherwise, wetlands would lose protection – no matter how much they lower floodwaters, filter drinking water, recharge aquifers, or provide critical wildlife habitat.
“This proposal guts protection for wetlands across America, which will have devastating impacts on fish and wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation,” says Jared Mott, Conservation Director for the Izaak Walton League. “Prairie potholes, for example, provide critical habitat for more than half the ducks in North America.”
Based on the policy proposed today, the administration would:
- Eliminate Clean Water Act protections for all ephemeral streams (streams that only flow after a storm event or from snow melt).
- Strip protections for some intermittent streams – under confusing, complex requirements involving “traditionally navigable waters.” This means fewer of these streams will be protected than under current regulations. (Intermittent streams do not flow all year but are not dependent on a storm event for 100 percent of water flow.)
- Dramatically reduce protections for wetlands to cover only wetlands that “abut or have a direct hydrologic surface connection” to a more permanent body of water.
The Izaak Walton League believes this proposal is fundamentally flawed – it is not supported by science, the law, or common sense.