clean water act

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers aim to cut protections for thousands of streams

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Proposal leaves important drinking water sources and habitat unprotected from pollution 

For immediate release 

Dec. 11, 2018 

Contact: 
Steve Moyer, steve.moyer@tu.org, (571) 274-0593
Vice President of Government Affairs

Shauna Stephenson, shauna.stephenson@tu.org (307) 757-7861
National Communications Director

(Dec. 11, 2018) WASHINGTON D.C. -- Trout Unlimited announced its strong opposition to the proposed rollback of protections for thousands of miles of streams and many wetlands today by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The proposal outlines an ill-conceived approach to applying the Clean Water Act by eliminating protection for thousands of stream miles in the country – streams that supply drinking water for millions of Americans. It also erases protections for thousands of acres of wetlands, a critical component to a functioning watersheds. 

 The proposal will deregulate a host of development activities, such as pipeline construction that will, over time, degrade hunting and fishing opportunities in every state in the country. 

“Today’s proposal is so far off track that you cannot see the track from where this proposal landed,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Headwater streams, especially ephemeral streams, are like the capillaries in our bodies – they're small and easy to overlook, but we wouldn’t last long without them. It is a fundamentally flawed proposal.” 

Polls show Americans overwhelmingly support protections for clean water and the Clean Water Act. 

“The Agencies’ proposal turns its back on the importance of small headwater streams to healthy waterways and sportfishing recreation," said Steve Moyer, vice president of government affairs for Trout Unlimited.  “Sportsmen and women know that we all live downstream. All the benefits of our larger streams, rivers, and bays are dependent on the health of our small streams.” 

Using the Clean Water Act to protect headwater streams is especially valuable to Trout Unlimited. At a basic level, 59 percent of rivers and stream miles in the lower 48 states are intermittent or ephemeral (i.e., they are small or headwater streams that do not flow year-round). However, in the drier southwest, that figure is higher. In Arizona, 96 percent of the waters are intermittent or ephemeral streams. EPA Region 8, consisting of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas, estimates that only 17 percent of the waters in its states flow year-round.   

Headwater streams contribute to the drinking water supplies of 117 million Americans, protect communities from flooding, and provide essential fish and wildlife habitat that support a robust outdoor recreation economy worth $887 billion.  

“Clean water is not a political issue. It is a basic right of every American,” Wood said. “To be effective, the Clean Water Act must be able to control pollution at its source -- upstream in the headwaters and wetlands that flow downstream through communities to our major lakes, rivers, and bays. We urge the Agencies to reconsider their flawed proposal and remember the very purpose of the Clean Water Act.” 

Frequently asked questions: 

How Did We Get Here?  

When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, it protected virtually all of America’s waters--every type of stream, wetland, river, lake or bay. A 2001 Supreme Court decision first questioned if all wetlands and streams should in fact be protected--and the issue has become ever-more politicized since then. 

In 2015, under President Obama, the EPA finalized a rule (the Clean Water Rule) clarifying that the Clean Water Act protects all of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands. The rule gained strong support from sportsmen, scientists and the public, but it was opposed by a powerful coalition of agriculture and development interests  

What’s happening now? 

Early in 2017, President Trump directed the EPA to first rescind and then replace the Clean Water Rule. The Administration’s efforts to rescind the 2015 Rule have partially blocked, as the 2015 Rule is in effect in 22 states. The new proposal, unveiled today, is an unwarranted effort to replace the 2015 Rule. The new proposal is NOT based in science and is NOT consistent with the goals of the Clean Water Act. The new rollback proposal will undermine long standing protections for wetlands and small streams, it will harm hunting and fishing in America. 

Why should sportsmen care? 

The Clean Water Act and the 2015 Rule are vital to TU’s work and to anglers across the nation. Whether TU is working with farmers to restore small headwater streams in West Virginia, removing acidic pollution caused by abandoned mines in Pennsylvania, or protecting the world-famous salmon-producing, 14,000-jobs-sustaining watershed of Bristol Bay, Alaska, we rely on the Clean Water Act to safeguard our water quality improvements. 

TU members, and sportsmen and women nationwide, want to move forward with progress on cleaning up our nation’s waters, not go backwards. Thus, the Clean Water Act needs to be improved, not weakened—the as was the case in today’s proposal. 

 

 Trout Unlimited is the nation’s oldest and largest coldwater fisheries conservation organization dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon and their watersheds. Follow TU on Facebook and TwitterInstagram and our blog for all the latest information on trout and salmon conservation.  

 

New Clean Water Rule

On June 17th, 2015 the Denver Post posted Colorado Trout Unlimited executive director David Nickum's, and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union president Kent Peppler's article that highlighted the new clean water rule from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA. The new rule is not an expansion of the Clean Water Act, but rather a "clarification of Clean Water Act jurisdiction," to quote the article directly. The rule allows for the water fish use as their habitat, and Coloradans use for safe drinking water, to be protected. It also ensures the protection of streams and wetlands that are essential to Colorado's outdoor recreation economy. The full article can be found below. Photo by RJ Sangosti for The Denver Post

 

For nearly 15 years, 10,000 miles of streams and thousands of acres of wetlands in Colorado have been at greater risk of being polluted or destroyed due to confusion over what bodies of water are protected under the Clean Water Act. That all changed last week thanks to a new rule from the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that restores protections to the vital waters that provide habitat for fish and wildlife and safe drinking water to two out of three Coloradans.

The rule is a clarification of Clean Water Act jurisdiction. It gives Colorado's farmers and ranchers a clear understanding of the rules that protect the water we rely on for the production of healthful food while maintaining all of the existing Clean Water Act exemptions for normal farming activities, and in some cases, strengthening them. The rule also gives Colorado sportsmen certainty that the wetlands and headwater streams that form the backbone of our state's $3 billion outdoor recreation economy will be safeguarded.

Contrary to what opponents have claimed, the rule does not expand the Clean Water Act. The rule does not protect any new types of waters or regulate ditches. It does not apply to groundwater, nor does it create any new permitting requirements for agriculture, or address land use or private property rights.

In crafting the long-overdue final rule, the agencies reviewed comments from more than 1 million Americans. Advocates on all sides had called for the clarification the rule provides, prompting the EPA and Army Corps to hold more than 400 meetings with stakeholders. The final rule is a clear victory not only for farmers, ranchers and sportsmen, but for all Coloradans. Unfortunately, it may not last long.

Before the clean water rule was even finalized, some members of Congress began to engage in last ditch efforts to block the anticipated rule, and restart the multi-year rulemaking process. Now that the rule has been written, these attacks have intensified. Inflammatory rhetoric about an administrative "power grab" are driving attempts to pass legislation in both the House and Senate that would force the agencies to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the rule. Not only would these efforts unnecessarily delay a process that has been well vetted from top to bottom, it would also have serious, damaging impacts on our water supply, our local farmers, sportsmen and our state's economy.

As Congress considers this unnecessary delay, Colorado's senators have a critical role to play. Sen. Michael Bennet has supported these efforts to protect clean water in the past, while Sen. Cory Gardner has been in opposition. We urge them both to do what's in the best interest for their constituents and oppose efforts to derail the clean water rule.

There is a misconception that all farmers oppose the clean water rule. In fact, farmers, ranchers and sportsmen have stood side by side for decades in the fight for clean water, and were present during the many public meetings and listening sessions the agencies held as they were forming the final rule. As we face down 11th-hour efforts to block the rule, we urge support for the clean water rule across the Continental Divide, from headwater trout streams to farm fields, to sustain our Colorado way of life for us and future generations of farmers, hunters and anglers.