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Why Are All These Waters in Jeopardy?
In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act to protect all "waters of the United States." For 30 years, both the courts and the agencies responsible for administering the Act interpreted it to broadly protect our Nation's waters.
However, in two decisions, Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (SWANCC) (in 2001) and Rapanos v. United States (in 2006), the Supreme Court ignored congressional intent and narrowly interpreted the scope of waters covered by the Act, putting in doubt pollution safeguards for many vital wetlands, lakes and streams.
After the decisions, the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers excluded numerous waters from protection and placed unnecessarily high hurdles to protecting others. These decisions shattered the fundamental framework of the Clean Water Act. Find out what the loss of Clean Water Act protections means for your state.
How Do We Fix the Clean Water Act and Safeguard America's Wildlife and Waters?
On March 25, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers released their proposed rule, clarifying which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act. This rule proposes to restore protection to all of the tributaries of waters already covered by the Clean Water Act, and all of the wetlands, lakes, or other waters within or adjacent to the floodplains of these tributaries.The rule also specifically excludes many man-made ditches, ponds, and irrigation systems and honors the laws current exemptions for normal farming, ranching, and forestry practices.
While the proposal is an excellent first step, it leaves many important waters at risk. Critical fish and wildlife habitat and pollution filters including prairie potholes, Carolina bays, vernal pools, and playa lakes will remain unprotected. These waters store flood waters, filter pollution, and provide critical fish and wildlife habitat. These waters are important to the health of downstream rivers and bays, but these connections are less obvious because they are located beyond the floodplains of streams and rivers. To restore longstanding protections for these waters, we must make the scientific case for protecting them as “waters of the United States.”
Without this rule, many of our waters will continue to suffer. The decade-long loss of loss of protections has taken its toll. For the first time since the 1980s, annual wetland losses are on the increase. The public demonstrated broad support for the guidance and rulemaking to follow. In February 2012, more than 250 state and local sportsmen organizations, watershed groups and outdoor businesses from 11 Great Lakes, Southern and Western states called on the administration to act quickly toward this end. To read their letters, click here. A 2012 poll showed that 79% of hunters and anglers favor restoring Clean Water Act protections. In response to the rule's unveiling, 24 craft brewers wrote in support of the proposal.