Clean Water is Under Attack

The Administration has directed the EPA to take sweeping measures to undo clean water protections under the Clean Water Rule intended to safeguard the health of our rivers, streams and wetlands. The announcement to repeal the Clean Water Rule represents one of the most serious assaults on our water resources in decades.

What is the Clean Water Rule?

The 2015 Clean Water Rule describes the types of water bodies  that are protected by the Clean Water Act and ensures permits related to sewage treatment  and industrial pollution apply to smaller bodies of water like streams and wetlands. The streams that feed into the Potomac River are essential to the overall quality of the river itself, and the Clean Water Rule was drafted to protect them.

Benefits of the Clean Water Rule:

1. It ensures the protection of more than 2 million miles of rivers and streams throughout the Nation.

2. The rule restored Clean Water Act protections for 60 percent of the nation’s stream miles and millions of acres of wetlands after they were dropped following two US Supreme Court cases a decade ago.

3. One in three Americans gets drinking water from streams that are not clearly protected by the Clean Water Act.

4. The rule protects these waterways. The EPA estimates that the rule directly applies to streams that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans.

5. The rule protects about 57 percent of the streams in Virginia alone.

Why does the Clean Water Rule Exist?

In 2015, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA created the Clean Water Rule to clarify how the Clean Water Act applied to the smaller streams and wetlands. Prior to the rule, pollution cases affecting smaller water bodies were left in limbo, and ultimately compromised, due to loopholes left in the Clean Water Act. The rule acknowledged that large bodies of water could only be clean if the streams and tributaries flowing into them are also protected. Before finalizing the Clean Water Rule in 2015, EPA held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and published a synthesis of more than 1200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, which showed that the small streams and wetlands the Rule safeguards are vital to larger downstream waters.

Why is the Clean Water Rule Now Targeted for Repeal?

The rule received criticism from industries whose activities in and around smaller streams and wetlands would have been regulated. The rule is now tied up in court, as businesses and agricultural interest groups argue that it represents federal overreach, a vast expansion of the Clean Water Act, and is a threat to the economy.  The Congressional Research Service reports contradict this position and showed that the rule was comparable to long established and common sense standards. Nevertheless, President Trump and his EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, have vowed to eliminate the Clean Water Rule.

The Future of the Clean Water Rule:

The EPA under the Trump Administration plans to repeal and replace the Clean Water Rule with two separate rule-making processes. Their strategy is to repeal the Clean Water Rule, then create a new rule that would roll back clean water safeguards for wetlands and streams. Administrator Pruitt recently said he hopes to finish both rules by the end of 2017 or early 2018. Ultimately, the Administration’s clean water rollback plan means fewer streams, wetlands, and other waters would be protected by the Clean Water Act.

Risks of Repealing the Clean Water Rule:

1. The rollback plan puts the drinking water for one in three Americans at risk.

2. Cut backs would create legacy pollution problems that our children would have to fix at great cost.

3. This threatens to undo 45 years of progress toward cleaning our rivers under the Clean Water Act and is a colossal waste of money already invested

4. Small and rural communities, who rely on private wells or whose water systems lack the resources to deal with polluted sources, may be hit the hardest by the roll back.

5. Clean water is essential to the outdoor economy. In 2011, hunters spent $34 billion, anglers spent $41.8 billion, and wildlife watchers spent $55 billion. Repealing the Clean Water Rule and attacking the Clean Water Act puts our economy at risk.

6. The new rules would lead to the destruction of wetlands that prevent dangerous flooding  and help mitigate threats posed by rising water levels worldwide.

7. Healthy streams and their biological communities filter pollutants and can prevent them from making it downstream to rivers, bays and coastal areas. By damaging or destroying our streams and wetlands we disrupt this natural process.

How Would the Repeal of the Clean Water Rule Affect Our Region?

While the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and Chesapeake Bay would still be under Clean Water Act jurisdiction, we are gravely concerned that many of the small intermittent or perennial streams that are found throughout the Potomac watershed could be vulnerable if the Clean Water Rule is repealed. These small streams are found throughout the watershed, including in the headwaters areas which provide clean water at the source of our rivers.

In the Shenandoah, reversing the Clean Water Rule could eliminate any future hope of regulating agricultural pollution under the Clean Water Act, and would make thousands of streams vulnerable to proposed pipeline projects. In the Upper Potomac, extraction industries like coal and gas occur operate almost exclusively in headwater streams, and loss of regulation over these areas would be potentially devastating. Our urban areas will also be affected. The District has many small streams where residents and families recreate. Losing jurisdiction over those waterways could leave them without protection.

What Can You Do?

While this Administration is committed to reversing this rule, a unified, bi-partisan show of support for clean water will show Congress that this issue is important to their constituents.

Together, we can take a stand by voicing our concerns on the repeal. Stay tuned as we prepare our Action Alert.