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New Water Quality Rule Reduces River Protections

Posted: 01/24/2020
by Kevin Colburn

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army released a new rule, called the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, dictating which rivers, streams, and wetlands are covered by the Clean Water Act. The new rule will eliminate water quality protections for an estimated 18% of streams and a majority of our country's wetlands. The rule is final, and will be implemented in 60 days barring intervention by the courts. It's important if you oppose this rule to contact your representatives and ask them to stand up for our nation's clean water and to do their job of oversight over these agencies. Us our super simple easy action form to contact your reps today!

The largest impact on rivers from the new rule likely comes from the elimination of jurisdiction over ephemeral streams, which flow only in response to rain or snowmelt. In some western states, such streams constitute the vast majority of waterways. In wetter environments, they are more typically small headwater streams. Allowing unregulated pollution to enter ephemeral streams defies the fact that following rains these streams flush their contents downstream into larger rivers.

These changes pose major concerns for public health and safety, water-dependent recreation economies, the rights of downstream landowners, and of course the many animals and plants that depend on rivers, streams and wetlands for their habitat. The rule leaves paddlers - who can paddle many rivers only after heavy rains, including ephemeral streams - especially exposed to potentially harmful pollution. Paddlers likely ingest more untreated river water than almost any other group of Americans, except perhaps children who play in rivers and streams.

Opposition to the new rule is significant and diverse. The EPA's own Science Advisory Board cautioned that the rule "decreases protection for our nation's waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining the 'chemical, physical, and biological integrity' of these waters." Litigation from public health, recreation, and environmental interests is certain, and may delay implementation of the new rule. American Whitewater has long been an advocate for strong implementation of the Clean Water Act on behalf of our members, including through delivering Congressional testimony and commenting on the draft version of this new rule. We will be reviewing the new rule in detail and looking for opportunities to reduce its impact on rivers and the communities that rely on them.

There is no comment period on this final rule. Paddlers are encouraged to contact your congressional representatives and voice your concerns, as Congress could intervene in an oversight capacity or restore protections through legislation.

Kevin Colburn
Asheville, NC