THE BLOG

Clearer Protections for Clean Water

03/25/2014 01:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2014
  • Gina McCarthy Administrator, U.S.Environmental Protection Agency

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is taking action to protect our precious water resources.

Many of us have fond memories of playing at our neighborhood pond or taking a swim in the local river. We remember the unspoiled wetlands and streams where our parents took us hunting and fishing as kids. We value our deep-rooted ties to the lakes and rivers that shape where we grew up and where we live. Our waters define who we are as people and as a nation.

Before 1972, that identity was threatened. Back then, levels of toxic pollution in our waters were so high that a river in Ohio caught fire. Americans deserved better, and millions of voices called for change. Congress answered the call with the passage of the Clean Water Act.

For more than four decades, the Clean Water Act has protected our right to safe water to drink and pristine places to hunt, fish, swim, and play. The law didn't just defend the mighty Mississippi or our Great Lakes; it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that weave together a vast, interconnected system. It recognized the dangers of dumping toxic pollution upstream, because healthy downstream lakes and rivers are beholden to the streams and wetlands that feed them.

Incredibly, one in three Americans -- more than 117 million people -- get their drinking water from these types of streams and headwaters. For example, every single one of more than two million people in Suffolk County, Mass., where I grew up, gets at least some of their water from these sources.

Water doesn't just nourish our people -- it sustains a strong American economy. Our farmers and ranchers need access to clean water to grow the fuel, food, and fiber that feed our nation.

Manufacturers rely on abundant water supplies to make everything from cars to computer chips. And the energy sector depends on water to produce affordable power for our homes and businesses. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, outdoor recreation alone pumps more than $640 billion in direct consumer spending into the economy each year, accounting for more than six million domestic jobs.

Without Clean Water Act protections -- there's often nothing stopping sewage, toxic chemicals, or some other worst-case water scenario from threatening our health and livelihoods. Unfortunately, over the last decade, the Clean Water Act has been bogged down by confusion. Two complex court decisions narrowed legal protections and muddled everyone's understanding of what waters are -- or are not -- covered under the law. Protections have been especially confusing for those smaller, vital interconnected streams and wetlands.

That's why our action is so important. Based on sound science and the law, we're proposing a Clean Water Act rule that clarifies which waters are protected -- with an eye toward those critical waters upstream.

Some may think that this rule will broaden the reach of EPA regulations -- but that's simply not the case. Our proposed rule will not add to or expand the scope of waters historically protected under the Clean Water Act. In the end -- the increased clarity will save us time, keep money in our pockets, cut red tape, give certainty to business, and help fulfill the Clean Water Act's original promise: to make America's waters fishable and swimmable for all.

But to get this rule right, we need everyone to be part of the conversation. We're holding discussions around the country and gathering input to help shape the final rule. Visit www.epa.gov/uswaters to learn more about the Clean Water Act and how you can comment on our proposal.

We've made a lot of progress over the last four decades. Our rivers are no longer flammable -- but we still have a ways to go. We need to do what we can to clear the way for the Clean Water Act do its job -- protecting our health, providing for our cherished pastimes, and promoting a thriving economy.

Today's proposed rule helps clear that path forward. It gets us closer to clean, healthy waters upstream and downstream, so our children's children can enjoy the same treasured places we enjoy today.

More information: www.epa.gov/uswaters

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