Clean Up the Murky Waters with the Clean Water Restoration Act

A stream runs through it

A stream runs through it

While Congress debates whether or not to pass the Clean Water Restoration Act, millions of Americans are getting their drinking water from streams that could lose protection under the current interpretation of the Clean Water Act because agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency may no longer have the authority to stop polluters. The EPA just released an alarming analysis of the sources of the public water supplies – alarming because many of these sources may no longer fall under the protection of the CWA as currently interpreted by the Federal Courts.

“The new EPA drinking water data shows that drinking water supplies are at risk due to compromised jurisdiction,” explained Jan Goldman Carter of the National Wildlife Federation. Due to court decisions made during the Bush Administration there is great uncertainty over who can enforce – if anyone –polluters to stop in waters that don’t fit the definition of “navigable.”

In the US more than 207,000 miles of these smaller streams provide drinking water to more than 117 million Americans. These waterways are threatened under the current court inspired interpretation of the CWA because they are not large, deep or permanent enough for boats to move through and that means they are not navigable.

In the Great Lakes state of Illinois, the EPA analysis of the source of public water supplies shows that at least 821,000 residents in the southern and western areas of the state are at risk from industrial pollution. Likewise in Michigan, the same report shows that 202,000 residents in southern and eastern Michigan are drinking from threatened sources of water.

Finally, in Wisconsin, another Great Lakes state, the federal agency’s analysis shows that at least 187,000 residents in the central part of the state are drinking from water supplies at risk for industrial pollution and federal agencies like the EPA may not have the authority to stop the violators and force a clean-up.

To argue that we should do nothing to fix the Clean Water Act is to argue that it is OK for millions of Americans to drink dirty dangerous water. And it isn’t just us humans that suffer, the wildlife, the fish and the economy suffers when we don’t take care of our water.

Conservation and sportsmen’s groups are urging Congress to protect people and wildlife that depend on these at-risk waters by approving the CWRA. “By acting on legislation this fall,” says Geoff Mullins, Policy Initiatives Manager for the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “the U.S. House of Representatives can take a major step forward to ensure our water is safe for drinking, fishing, and outdoor recreation.”

Let’s not go back to the days of burning rivers when we can move forward by restoring the original intent of the CWA into law with the CWRA.

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