President Trump should realize that clean water is — and must remain — a big part of what makes America great.
By Rebecca Wodder
In his February address to Congress, President Donald Trump promised clean water for all Americans. Why, then, is his administration intent on dismantling protections that cover a third of the nation’s drinking water?
Trump has directed the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to rescind or revise the Clean Water Rule. Doing so would eliminate protections for small streams and millions of acres of wetlands.
Drafted by the Army Corps and EPA during the Obama administration, the Clean Water Rule clarifies which bodies of water are protected from pollution. The rule was developed through a yearslong process that included hundreds of public meetings and input from more than a million citizens.
Let’s take a moment to remember why such regulations are necessary. A half-century ago, America’s waters were in serious trouble.
In the early 1970s, two-thirds of the nation’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters had been declared unsafe for fishing or swimming. Untreated sewage and industrial wastes were dumped into rivers and bays; fish kills were common; and — in at least one memorable instance — an oil-fouled river actually caught fire.
In response, President Richard Nixon signed the Clean Water Act in 1972, with strong bipartisan support. The act regulates what can be dumped into the nation’s rivers, lakes and coastal waters, and sets standards for water quality. It has kept billions of pounds of pollution from the nation’s waters and greatly increased the number of waterways that are safe for swimming and fishing.
However, in the decades after the act’s passage, polluting industries have mounted a series of legal challenges, creating confusion over which waters are covered. A pair of Supreme Court decisions further muddied the waters.
The Clean Water Rule was developed to change that by providing regulatory clarity and a nationwide standard to protect water sources. Unfortunately, the rule has been tied up in litigation since it was announced in 2015. Now, Trump wants to do away with it altogether.
The Clean Water Rule takes an upstream approach to protecting drinking water. It protects small headwater streams whose waters eventually flow from our taps. And it safeguards wetlands that provide a valuable free service by filtering out contaminants that would otherwise need to be removed from our water.
Without those protections, the quality of our drinking water will suffer. The cost of water treatment will go up, as will water bills. Rising costs will hurt low-income families that are already struggling to pay their water bills.
What can you, as a concerned citizen, do? First, look into your community’s drinking water supplies: where your water comes from, what is polluting or threatening your water, and who is fighting to protect clean water in your community.
Then make your concerns known to your elected representatives in local, state and federal offices. Demand that the Trump administration and Congress ensure affordable, clean water for all Americans.
After all, clean water is — and must remain — a big part of what makes America great.
Rebecca Wodder, a former president and CEO of American Rivers, currently serves on the board of directors of River Network. She wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine.
This op-ed was originally published as part of the Tribune News Service.
Produced in collaboration with the Island Press Urban Resilience Project, with support from The Kresge Foundation and The JPB Foundation.