Yesterday, President Trump issued an order to the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to review and replace a federal rule that protects our rivers from pollution. This action will start a multi-year public rulemaking process that will decide the safety and health of our nation’s waterways. Paddlers will have an important role to play in speaking up for the value of clean water and healthy rivers.
The Clean Water Act is a 45 year-old federal law that governs how much and which kinds of pollution can be dumped in rivers, and how much water dams must release, while protecting the health and rights of all those who live downstream. The Clean Water Act is largely responsible for restoring many US rivers from toxic waterways devoid of life to thriving waterways that support safe drinking water, diverse aquatic life, and booming recreation economies.
Following years of ambiguity about exactly which streams and wetlands are covered under the Clean Water Act, the Obama Administration passed the Clean Water Rule based on extensive public outreach and scientific review. The Clean Water Rule regulates the discharge of pollution into all streams with a defined bed and bank (since water flows downstream) as well as certain types of wetlands. American Whitewater supports the Clean Water Rule and helped defend it from previous challenges. The nation's preeminent scientists likewise actively support the Clean Water Rule, as voiced in letter to the President this week.
The new Executive Order requires that the Clean Water Rule be replaced with a new rule that promotes economic growth and that does not cover channels that are intermittent, ephemeral, or only flow after rains. While this is the outline of the proposed new rule, the details remain to be seen and could further limit protections. This new rule will be pitched to the public and there will opportunities for review and public input.
As paddlers, we know that pollution dumped in creek beds that occasionally run dry will end up downstream when it rains. The Clean Water Act must apply to our Nation’s headwaters if the goal is to protect downstream states, people, fish, and property rights. Paddlers also know that healthy rivers attract and inspire new businesses, revitalize communities, and create boons to public health, fitness, and happiness.
Americans overwhelmingly support clean water and healthy rivers, and we are confident that there will be a massive public response to the forthcoming rulemaking. When the new draft rule is released American Whitewater staff will review it with open minds and through a scientific lens, and let the paddling community know what we think. We’ll also share the draft rule with you for your own consideration, and help rally public comments.