Clean water is a fundamentally vital part of our health as a nation. But as important as we all know it to be, it’s only been within our lifetime that regulations have been put in place and enforced to ensure that our watersheds are protected from the development and pollution that had gone unchecked for generations before, carelessly wasting our streams, rivers, lakes and coastal waters in the name of progress. Unfortunately, many of those vital clean water protections are now at risk of being rolled back by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers – the very entities that established them in the first place – threatening a return to the blatant disregard of the past.
The Clean Water Act signed into law by congress in 1972 was significantly motivated by the devastating oil spill in the Santa Barbara channel and the Cuyahoga River fire in Ohio (both in 1969) – the latter literally going up because it was polluted to the point of becoming flammable. The Clean Water Act sought “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.” Five years later the Army Corps of Engineers extended the Act to protect all rivers and streams, as well as their tributaries, even if those waterways flowed only during certain times of the year (intermittent streams) or after it rained or snowed (ephemeral streams).
In 2015 the Clean Water Rule further clarified and widened protections for “waters of the United States” (WOTUS), including intermittent and ephemeral streams, based on best available peer-reviewed science, public input, and the EPA’s technical expertise and almost 50 years of implementing the law. The bottom line was that “upstream waters, including headwaters and wetlands… [play] a crucial role in controlling sediment, filtering pollutants, reducing flooding, providing habitat for fish and other aquatic wildlife, and many other vital chemical, physical, and biological processes.”
To underscore the importance and breadth of these protections, nearly 60 percent of all U.S. waterways (81 percent in the Southwest) are ephemeral or flow seasonally.
Under the Trump Administration’s short-sighted deregulate-and-develop directive, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have proposed a revised definition of our nation’s waterways, which would roll back the advances of the Clean Water Rule and ultimately remove Clean Water Act protections for ephemeral streams, as well as wetlands that are not physically connected to larger waterways.
From the Gulf to the Great Lakes, Montana to Arizona and the entire east coast, rolling back our clean water protections will affect every last one of us by putting at risk the very thing that we rely on for our nation’s health and the health of the places we all hold close as anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. We can’t let that happen.