Op-Ed, 420 words

Congress: Rescue the Clean Water Act

Unless we protect headwater streams, our drinking water could be contaminated.

Michael Brune

The Clean Water Act protected the nation’s waters for decades, from the Great Lakes and Mississippi River, to small headwater streams and associated wetlands. Yet Congress and the Supreme Court have allowed the act to falter for the past nine years.

Environmental Protection Agency regulators have revealed that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations, involving chemicals and hazardous waste being dumped into bodies of water, are being stalled. Confusion from Clean Water Act court decisions has caused these pollution infractions, which endanger our health and environment, to languish. This is inexcusable.

Thankfully, there’s some hope on the horizon. Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) recently introduced “America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act.” It would move to fix the law and reinstate historic protection for streams and lakes against waste disposal, oil spills, and destruction. Passing this bill is crucial to providing Americans with clean water to drink and safe places to swim, boat, and fish.

We must support Oberstar’s efforts. Otherwise, a great percentage of our country’s waterways–many of which are drinking water sources–will remain vulnerable to pollution.

Under varying interpretations of these Supreme Court decisions and the related agencies’ policies, the protection under the Clean Water Act of smaller bodies of water that don’t flow year-round are among those at risk. These now threatened streams and wetlands support the major rivers and lakes by filtering out pollution, slowing or absorbing flood waters, and providing a habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife.

Unless we protect headwater streams, our drinking water could be contaminated. Failing to protect our drinking water sources imposes an unfair burden on municipal water treatment providers, which will be forced to treat dirtier water.

Unlike earlier legislation, the new America’s Commitment to Clean Water Act compromise doesn’t invoke the broadest authority under the Constitution to protect our nation’s waters and includes regulatory exemptions that Congress hasn’t previously endorsed. This bill also has less vigorous factual findings highlighting the importance and purpose of broadly protecting our nation’s waters than previous bills.

Sure, this bill is a compromise, but it aims to protect the same waters that were previously protected under the Clean Water Act.

We all need safe and healthy drinking water, and the best way to protect our drinking water is to protect its sources from pollution. Congress must move quickly to protect streams and lakes from more destruction and pollution.

Let’s all work together to get this legislation passed and ensure broad protection of America’s waters. Our families’ health and our waterways can’t afford to wait any longer.

Michael Brune is the executive director of the Sierra Club. www.sierraclub.org