EPA Calls for Stronger Clean Water Act Protections

June 27, 2011 UPDATE! Comment deadline extended 30 days to July 31!

In response to requests from state and local officials, as well as other stakeholders, EPA and the Corps will take additional comment until July 31, 2011 on this important draft guidance. The 60-day public comment period was originally set to expire on July 1, 2011. The agencies will be publishing a notice of this 30-day extension in the Federal Register.

More information: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm

On April 27, the U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers released Draft Guidance on Identifying Waters Protected by the Clean Water Act. The draft guidance attempts to answer a very critical question -- which streams, wetlands and other waters are protected under the Clean Water Act? The guidance attempts to clear up confusion and protection problems following two Supreme Court decisions which muddied the waters on the question of “jurisdiction” or Clean Water Act protections from pollution, dredge and fill, and other harmful activities.

This is the first important step to enable the federal government to once again recognize what science and Mother Nature have known for a long time – the waters of the United States are connected. In their announcement, the Obama Administration recognized that all waters of the U.S. (including critical wetlands, small streams and streams that flow part of the year) must be protected if we are truly going to enforce the Clean Water Act.

This guidance is a very important first step but the American public and more specifically, the thousands of river a watershed groups from around the country who are working hard to protect and restore their home waters, must speak up forcefully in favor of a strong guidance document and strong rules to restore these essential protections.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW

Please take action today to speak out in support of the draft guidance. The guidance is out for public comment for 60 days, so it can still change for the better or for the worse! Please consider taking two actions:

1) Submit your own comments on the draft guidance.

2) If appropriate, ask the members of your organization to submit comments on the draft guidance – the more voices on this, the better!

The very best comments will include local information about how the issue of Clean Water Act coverage affects people, streams and wetlands in your watershed. More general talking points for your comments could include one or more of the following:

• Congress clearly intended to protect these critical water resources when they passed the Clean Water Act nearly 40 years ago.
• This action taken by the US. EPA and the Army Corps recognizes a simple fact – the waters of the U.S. are connected and therefore must be protected.
• Wrongheaded interpretations of two confusing U.S. Supreme Court in the last decade, have led to the loss of protections for 20 million acres of wetlands and 60% of the stream miles in the United States, effectively gutting much of the intent of the Clean Water Act.
• Wetlands act as nature’s kidneys, filtering pollutants and also acting as a natural sponge to soak up excess waters during big precipitation events. Wetland losses make flood events worse, damaging property, endangering lives and impacting myriad business enterprises from agriculture to the recreational tourism industry.
• Protecting these wetlands and small stream corridors can help to reduce the impacts of floods like those that we are seeing along the Mississippi River (insert your own river/watershed if flooding is occurring in your area) this spring. Many communities have been able to reduce flooding by restoring wetlands and removing pavement along waterways and river banks. A single acre of wetland can store 1-1.5 million gallons of flood water.
• According to a report recently issued by the National Wildlife Federation, “The Upper Mississippi River Basin states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Iowa, and Missouri have each lost 85-90 percent of their wetlands and countless headwater streams.” The report continues, “Just a 1 percent loss of a watershed’s wetlands can increase total flood volume by almost 7 percent.”
• (If you are experiencing spring floods in your area) Protecting these wetlands and small stream corridors can help to reduce the impacts of floods like those that are saturating our community this spring. Many communities have been able to reduce flooding by restoring wetlands and removing pavement along waterways and river banks.

Comments are now due July 31, 2011. (The original 60-day public comment period was originally set to expire on July 1, 2011, but was extended by 30 days. The agencies will be publishing a notice of this 30-day extension in the Federal Register. More information: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/CWAwaters.cfm)

Submit your comments to ow-docket@epa.gov and place the Docket Number: Docket ID No. EPA–HQ– OW–2011–0409 in your subject line. (Please note: the email address in the Federal Register notice was wrong…this is the correct email! If you prefer to mail a hard copy, see the Federal Register notice at the first link below for the address and instructions.)

LEARN MORE

Read the proposed guidance and supporting material.

Explore U.S. EPA’s detailed repository of legal and technical information on the issue.