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Clean Water Act Headwater Protections On Path to Restoration

Posted: 02/02/2021
By: Kevin Colburn

Within their day one executive orders, one of the first things the new administration did was to start the process of restoring more robust Clean Water Act protections to our nation’s rivers that were weakened under the prior administration. This is good news for rivers and paddlers. This first-day executive order signals that a new rulemaking is coming that will restore protections to many headwater and desert streams in particular, which will of course restore protections for many downstream river reaches and their communities too. Rulemaking often takes two or more years and has multiple opportunities for public input. 


The Clean Water Act regulates pollution discharges into waterways in order to protect public health, recreation, and the environment. It is largely responsible for why we can paddle rivers without fear of pollution harming us. While most agree that the Clean Water Act covers large rivers, there is debate over whether and which headwater streams and wetlands are covered. Court decisions have caused as much confusion as clarity over the years, Congress has failed to resolve the matter, and administrations are left to fill the void with rules that take years to produce and are then replaced by the next administration. 


American Whitewater has a long track record of supporting science-based implementation of the Clean Water Act that accomplishes the goals of the Act. As a nation we committed decades ago to a vision of rivers that any American can paddle, fish, and swim in without fear of pollution poisoning us. We’ve largely accomplished that goal while allowing all the industry and economic growth we have in our country today. The Clean Water Act is as important today as ever, and headwater streams need basic protections restored. 
We’ll be tracking this issue and keeping paddlers informed so that we can speak up for the incredible value of the clean healthy rivers we all know and paddle. 

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

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