Proposal Would Weaken Water Quality Protections
By: Kevin Colburn
This week the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Army announced their intent to redefine the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) that are protected under the Clean Water Act.
We anticipated this action as the second step in a two-step process that EPA announced in response to a February 2017 Executive Order entitled “Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the ‘Waters of the United States’ Rule.” Step 1 is to “repeal” the 2015 Clean Water Rule and step 2 is to “revise” the 2015 Clean Water Rule.
American Whitewater was directly engaged in the public process to develop the 2015 Clean Water Rule. We invested considerable capacity in the development of this rule that reflected the input of the whitewater boating community. The 2015 Clean Water Rule clarified protections for headwater streams where the majority of whitewater recreation takes place. Healthy headwater areas are not only important for recreation, clean drinking water and healthy ecosystems, but also for local economies. We celebrated the passage of this rule based on years of scientific study, sound economic arguments, and wide public support; we view withdrawing this rule as a significant threat to the health of our most cherished waterways and those who enjoy the recreational opportunities they provide.
The 2015 Clean Water Rule was developed following years of ambiguity over exactly which streams and wetlands are covered under the Clean Water Act. In response to this regulatory uncertainty, the Clean Water Rule was crafted based on extensive public outreach and scientific review. The input of the whitewater paddling community and those who recreate on our nation's headwater streams was considered in the development of the rule.
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 2015 Clean Water Rule and has helped defend it from previous challenges. The nation's preeminent scientists likewise actively support the Clean Water Rule.
As paddlers, we know that pollution dumped in creek beds that occasionally run dry ends 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 support public health, fitness, and happiness.
The proposed “revision” for the 2015 Clean Water Rule is now available for review and will soon be open a 60 day comment period when it is published to the Federal Register. Although the proposal is 253 pages long and will take more time to carefully review, our preliminary read is this proposal would substantially reduce protections for headwater streams representing the source of our nation’s rivers. We will review the proposal in more detail over the coming weeks. Follow our website and social media channels for additional instructions on how to comment and our suggested talking points. You can also check the Federal eRulemaking Portal for the current status of the public comment opportunity: https://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149.