Op-Ed: We Must Defend Our Rivers and Streams from the EPA

Sandra Meola | April 11, 2019 | Opinion
The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing rule changes that would significantly weaken protections for our waterways

Sandra Meola
When discussing the future of the environment, one cannot forget the important resource of fresh water. In the United States, sources of drinking water face incredible stress from the impacts of climate change, toxic chemicals, plastic waste, overdevelopment, and many other issues. While protections for our waterways are essential, the current administration’s Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to redefine the Waters of the United States rule under the Clean Water Act. If the proposed changes are implemented, it would be the largest weakening of the Clean Water Act since its passage.

Since the Clean Water Act became law in 1972, progress has been made in cleaning up many of our nation’s most treasured rivers and streams. For example, before the Clean Water Act, the Delaware River was a dumping ground for raw sewage and chemical waste, and it could barely sustain aquatic life. Now, a cleaned-up Delaware River and its tributaries, like the Musconetcong, Rancocas, and Cooper rivers, offer clean drinking water, beautiful scenery, historical value, and wildlife habitat.

In New Jersey, more than 1.5 million people get their water from the Delaware River Watershed. Fish and wildlife in the watershed are plenty: eagles, hawks, turkey, great blue heron, American shad, and river otters — which all rely on clean water and healthy habitats. The Delaware and its New Jersey tributaries are also a recreational attraction that provides fishing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting. Waterways provide so much for the community and for visitors, which is why we must safeguard these valuable resources.

Rolling back years of progress

Though we rely on water in so many ways, Clean Water Act rollbacks would leave our water sources without guaranteed pollution control, prevention, and clean-up programs. Redefining the Waters of the U.S. rule could mean that commercial developers would no longer need to obtain a permit before paving over or building on wetlands, even though wetlands are critical for wildlife habitat, mitigating flooding, and filtering water. The EPA’s redefinition could also mean that chemical spills, waste from factory farms, and industrial facilities could contaminate streams and wetlands without it being considered a Clean Water Act violation, allowing polluters to freely compromise our drinking water sources without recourse.

By the EPA’s own estimates, 18 percent of streams and 51 percent of wetlands throughout the country would no longer benefit from federal pollution safeguards if rollbacks were implemented. The final Clean Water Rule may also exclude intermittent streams from the Clean Water Act, which would threaten at least 70 percent of our nation’s stream miles, totaling about 9 million stream miles.

These streams are important for ensuring clean, accessible drinking water and are critical for the survival of many species of fish and wildlife. According to the EPA’s own data, about 117 million people get some or all of their drinking water from the types of streams that are threatened with the proposed alterations to the Clean Water Act.

Too many communities already face drinking water challenges — we can’t go backwards. The Clean Water Act has defended the nation’s water for 45 years and we need to stand up against efforts to weaken critical protections. Reversing the progress made that allows us to enjoy clean drinking water, recreation, and wildlife habitat is bad news for everyone. Submit a comment to the EPA during their open comment period until April 15, using Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149. After all, water is life.