To protect clean water and wildlife in the wake of weakened protections triggered by the Supreme Court’s Sackett v EPA decision, the Izaak Walton League has endorsed H.R. 5983, the Clean Water Act of 2023.
“Safeguarding our nation’s waters ultimately depends on Congress amending the Clean Water Act to specifically include tributary streams, wetlands and other waters in the definition of the waterbodies protected by the Act,” said Scott Kovarovics, executive director, Izaak Walton League of America.
“The League commends the bill’s 118 sponsors in the House of Representatives for their leadership in protecting every American’s right to clean water. Fish and wildlife also depend on healthy wetlands.”
H.R. 5983 would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to restore a national minimum standard of protection for the water resources of the United States while providing certainty to regulated entities.
Sponsors of the bill hope this legislation would reinstate the “historic and bipartisan, federal-state partnership that has protected our rivers, streams, and wetlands for over 50 years; by establishing a clear, level playing field for businesses and industries to thrive while protecting critical natural resources; and ensuring clean water for families and communities.”
The Sackett v EPA decision rolled back 50 years of Clean Water Act protections for wetlands and tributary streams. In response, the League has launched a multi-year campaign to mitigate the potential damage.
“Rolling back protections for small streams directly threatens public health. EPA analysis shows that one of every three Americans get drinking water from reservoirs and other public systems that are fed in whole or in part by intermittent or ephemeral streams.
“The Izaak Walton League will immediately work to reduce harms from these changes through our national network of volunteer water quality monitors, enforcement of state and local clean water standards and building grassroots pressure on Congress to pass legislation like the Clean Water Act of 2023.”
The Izaak Walton League was created in 1922 in large part to protect the nation’s waterways and wetlands. One of the League’s first victories was establishing the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in 1924. The Refuge now conserves 240,00 acres through four states along the Mississippi floodplain.
Eyes on the Water
Nationwide, thousands of Izaak Walton League volunteers and members monitor water quality locally through programs such as Save Our Streams, Salt Watch and Nitrate Watch. They provide a powerful rapid-response capability for testing waters and alerting local authorities about changes in water quality. These volunteers are among the first to detect pollution or wetland drainage.
League staff have already begun to provide guidance about specific steps volunteers can take if they witness something that seems unusual or see test results measuring elevated levels of pollution.
How Sackett Has Eroded Clean Water Rules
Ignoring the clear purpose of the law, congressional intent and science, the five-justice majority in Sackett defined the types of waters covered by the Clean Water Act more narrowly than any previous decision and more narrowly than Congress clearly intended and the way EPA and the Army Corps have implemented the law for decades.
The scope of the damage from the Sackett decision was not fully known until the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers recently revised their Clean Water Act regulations as required by the decision.
Some of the key changes to the regulations follow:
- If a wetland does not have a continuous surface water connection to a river, lake or the ocean, it can be drained and filled without a Clean Water Act permit. The EPA estimates that 60 million acres of wetlands in the United States do not have a continuous surface connection and therefore can be drained and filled without limit under the Clean Water Act.
- The EPA and Army Corps have removed “interstate wetlands” from the definition of “interstate waters” that are covered by the Clean Water Act. Now these wetlands, which affect water quality, migratory wildlife and drinking water supplies in other states, are not afforded the same protection as other interstate waters.
- The agencies’ regulations now safeguard tributaries of larger waters only if those tributaries “are relatively permanent, standing or continuously flowing bodies of water.” This excludes ephemeral streams (which only flow after rains or melting snow) and many intermittent streams (which do not flow perennially).
Read more about Sackett v. EPA at https://www.iwla.org/publications/blog/blog/blog/2023/10/03/sackett-v.-epa-spells-disaster-for-wetlands-and-clean-water0
Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League fights for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat and conservation of our natural resources for future generations. The League plays a unique role in supporting community-based science and local conservation and has a long legacy of shaping sound national policy. See www.iwla.org.
Michael Reinemer, Communications Director, firstname.lastname@example.org; 301-548-0150 ext. 220
Jared Mott, Conservation Director, email@example.com; 301-548-0150, ext. 224