Policy Pulse: So Close To Cleaner Water

After more than a decade, a rule is almost in place that would clear up the current confusion over which waters of the United States are protected under the Clean Water Act – and which are not.

This confusion is the consequence of lawsuits that jeopardized Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands. But the legal opinions were not clear which streams and wetlands did not need protections against threats such as draining, filling, and polluting.

The confusion has been hard on both the businesses that can affect water quality, such as developers and oil and gas companies, and the agencies responsible for safeguarding clean water. It has also resulted in the unnecessary loss and pollution of streams and wetlands that provide clean drinking water, provide habitat for fish and wildlife, and reduce flooding and erosion.

For these reasons, many business and conservation groups and government agencies affected by the lack of clear rules have been calling for clarification for many years.

The Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency finally came out with a draft rule last year to clear up the confusion. They ran it through multiple levels of scientific review and opened the process up to extensive public comment.

Now, with the rule due out by the end of this spring, Congress is doing what it does best: Stalling. Bills have been introduced in the House and Senate to kill this rule with more red tape and delay – requiring the agencies to go through the same public and consultation procedures they just went through and re-evaluate the same issues they just evaluated.

What’s more, members of Congress are approving these bills! They are being passed on the House and Senate floors and attached to must-pass bills to fund government agencies. They are passing because there is a lot of misinformation being spread against the clean water rule.

  • „„It is being called a “land grab” but would take no land. Rather, the rule would require landowners to get a permit if they want to dredge or dump dirt into a waterway that flows downstream.
  • These dredge/dump permits are the source of much opposition to the clean water rule, but the permits are only required when there is a threat of pollution.
  • Opponents claim that the rule will destroy farming in America, but most agricultural activities are already exempt from the Clean Water Act – and even more will be exempt if the new rule is issued.

The Obama Administration is issuing veto threats against the bills to kill the clean water rule but will need the support of Senators and Representatives to finalize and implement it.

The premise of this rule is sound: That we all have a role to play in cleaning up our waters, even people and businesses upstream, and that we can’t clean up these waters without protecting the small streams and wetlands that are the sources of our water supplies. Otherwise, downstream communities and businesses will be doing their part to clean up the waters where they live only to have dirty water flowing in from up above.

The Izaak Walton League has been supporting the clean water rule for many years. Visit the advocacy section of this Web site to learn more about this issue and how to contact your Senators and Representative about it.