Clean Water is Under Attack

Latest Updates

Help Shenandoah Riverkeeper Pass a Law to Keep Cattle out of Our River!

This Wednesday, January 29, a key House Committee in the Virginia legislature will consider  HB 1422, a bill that sets a 2025 deadline to fence cattle out of waterways and requires state funding to ensure farmers can afford it. Unfenced cattle destroy streambanks and valuable riparian buffers, and directly “deposit” manure and bacteria into the […]

Don’t Mess with Success

The Clean Water Act has been an unmitigated success since it was passed in 1972. So why is the Trump administration rolling it back? Back then, more than two-thirds of U.S. waters were unfit for swimming, fishing, or drinking water use.  The Potomac River had been declared a national disgrace, Lake Erie was dead, and […]

Brent Walls, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper

PFOA/PFAS – Testing Results

As part of my work to investigate and remediate pollution in the Upper Potomac, I recently conducted a stream assessment for the presence of PFAS— extremely toxic chemicals — in two tributaries of the Opeqoun creek, Evans Run and Cold Spring Run. The sample sites were the same locations that West Virginia’s Department of Environmental […]

Comments on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Draft Chesapeake Bay TMDL Phase III Watershed Implementation Plan

Read the PRNK and Shenandoah Riverkeeper comments on the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Draft Chesapeake Bay TMDL Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan here. Attachment A Attachment B

Help Us Protect Clean Water! File your comments to protect the Clean Water Act today!

Clean water is fundamental to our health and our way of life. For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has promised that all Americans have access to clean water for drinking and recreation and that our country’s most valuable natural assets are protected from pollution.  But now the Trump administration is working to eliminate Clean Water […]


EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standard Testimony

Today I testified before the EPA about their proposed rulemaking which would weaken the Mercury an Air Toxics Standard. It is important that we prevent what happened with mercury in the Shenandoah watershed from happening again.  You can read my testimony below. Thank you for providing me this opportunity to stand in front of you […]


Frederick Sewage Plant Upgrade Success!

Great news!  We succeeded in our efforts to resolve the nitrogen pollution violations at Frederick’s wastewater treatment plant — the city successfully completed a $45 million upgrade to the plant after delays of several years. The upgrades were supposed to have been completed in 2011, but because of inactivity by the city, we were compelled […]


In episode six, the GW WonkCast team talks with Phillip Musegaas, Vice President of Programs and Litigation at Potomac Riverkeeper Network, an environmental nonprofit that works to protect the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Musegaas discusses the current state of water regulation and protection given the repeal and changes to the Clean Water Rule. This rule was […]

URGENT ACTION! Stop EPA’s Repeal of the Clean Water Rule!

The Trump administration launched its assault on our clean water and drinking water protections with a proposed repeal of the Clean Water Rule. A lengthy, deliberate, and inclusive process led to the 2015 Clean Water Rule, a rule protective of vital waterways and based in sound law and sound science. By comparison, the Administration’s scheme […]

EPA Suspends New Limits on Toxic Emissions from Coal Fired Power Plants

In yet another assault on clean water, the EPA recently announced its indefinite delay of new pollution limits for coal fired power plants, known as “Effluent Limitation Guidelines” (ELG) issued by President Obama’s EPA in 2015. After thirty years of inaction by EPA, these new limits on discharges of arsenic, mercury, lead and other toxic […]


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. Submit comments by September 27th!