By Heather Fenyk, LRWP President and Founder
We are just a few days shy of July 1, 2018, which marks the 35th anniversary of the Clean Water Act’s failure to meet it’s “fishable-swimable” goals for our nation’s waters. What does this mean for New Jersey’s waters? The most recent published report (2014) on New Jersey’s water quality tells us that only 16% of our waters fully support general aquatic life. That is, the vast majority of our waterways are not clean enough for drinking water, aquatic life, fish consumption, or even recreation.
The Clean Water Act was about more than the protection of recreation, and fish and wildlife propagation. It was an “interim goal of water quality” intended to lead to “fishable and swimmable” waters by July 1, 1983, and to “the national goal that the discharge of pollutants into the navigable waters be eliminated by 1985.” But more than a third of a century later the quality of our waterways, especially waters in our urban and historically impacted areas, are far from meeting fishable and swimmable goals.
Why? Because existing laws don’t ban pollution. They allow for polluters and developers to secure permits to pollute. The Clean Water Act is especially weak in terms of regulating the number one source of pollution in our national (and notably our New Jersey) waterways: stormwater.
Urban non-profit environmental organizations, like the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership that I run, go about the daily work of advocating for local watershed management strategies like stormwater utilities and Green Infrastructure to address the water quality and quantity problems in our watersheds. And state-wide collaborative efforts like Jersey Water Works are making tremendous strides to transform New Jersey’s water and wastewater treatment and delivery infrastructure. But without a wholesale shift in thinking around pollution in our waterways, our local waters will never meet the “fishable, swimmable” goals as set out by the CWA, no matter how many Combined Sewers we take off line, or how many rain barrels and rain gardens we install.
What else should be on our radar? How should we be rethinking water pollution policy in New Jersey? On the anniversary of the 35th year of the failure of the CWA to meet it’s goals, we offer you our top 10 ideas for effective change:
- Fund major research and development for innovative water treatment and water quality monitoring technologies;
- Offer economic incentives to polluters who perform beyond the minimum requirements of the law;
- Add public health objectives to our water pollution control laws;
- Prioritize clean-up and restoration of polluted waterways, especially in our economically disadvantaged communities;
- Establish new target dates for achieving fishable, swimmable waters in New Jersey;
- Establish target dates for completely eliminating the discharge of pollutants in our waterways;
- Develop real-time monitoring technologies that protect water consumers and recreational users;
- Increase enforcement of existing laws;
- Establish mandatory monitoring for emerging pollutants including micro-plastics, pharmaceuticals and hormones;
- Develop a central repository for information and resource sharing on best management practices in the state.
We welcome comments, additions and suggestions. Email us to share yours: firstname.lastname@example.org
Active CSO Discharge, Perth Amboy – photo credit: Raritan Riverkeeper Bill Schultz
While the LRWP and other New Jersey non-profits are working hard to clean up our waters and secure clean, safe drinking water for future generations, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is working to roll back the Clean Water Act. The current administration is rushing through a repeal of the Clean Water Rule and we have until August 28 during public comment to try and stop it. It’s critical for your voice to be heard in D.C.
What is the Clean Water Rule?
In 2015, the previous administration clarified and finalized protections for streams and wetlands across the country. These safeguards protected the small streams that feed the drinking water sources for nearly 1 in 3 Americans. They protected wetlands throughout the nation that filter pollutants from water, absorb floodwaters, and provide habitat for countless wildlife. In fact, industry and other permittees asked for this clarification as an end to regulatory confusion about which of the country’s waterways the Clean Water Act protects. The rule was supported by millions of Americans.
The Clean Water Rule followed a robust public process. Before finalizing the Clean Water Rule in 2015, EPA held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country and published a synthesis of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed scientific publications, which showed that the small streams and wetlands the Rule safeguards are vital to larger downstream waters.
What is this administration proposing?
Administrator Pruitt does not want to implement the Clean Water Rule. Instead, he plans to rush through the repeal of the Clean Water Rule this year, then propose and finalize a less protective rule in less than a year. President Trump signed an Executive Order instructing the EPA to propose a new rule based on former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s opinion of which waterways the Clean Water Act protects. A rule following Scalia’s interpretation would result in drastic exclusions of wetlands and streams from protection; fewer than half of wetlands and fewer than 40 percent of streams would receive federal protection. If that scenario comes to pass, then the nation’s waters will be less protected than they were in 1975!
Who is opposing the Clean Water Rule?
Lobbyists for oil and gas producers, homebuilders, and farm bureaus.
What is at stake?
Our right to clean drinking water is in jeopardy. Rolling back the rule will result in the same regulatory confusion that resulted in broad-based calls for clarity about which of our nation’s waterways the Clean Water Act protects. Rolling back the rule is bad governance, bad for businesses who rely on regulatory certainty, and bad for our communities that deserve clean water.
How you can help
The LRWP has submitted this letter (8.16.17 – LRWP letter to EPA re CWA rules repeal) to Administrator Pruitt. You can help by submitting a request to stop the repeal of this important rule on or before Monday, August 28, 11:59pm EST. Submit your online comment to the Federal eRulemaking Portal to STOP THE REPEAL! Sample language below:
RE: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2017-0203
Dear Administrator Pruitt:
The last thing we should do is weaken protections for clean water. I oppose the proposed repeal of the Clean Water Rule. Let the courts do their jobs and review the 2015 rulemaking.
This roll-back is dangerous. Clean water is the backbone of healthy communities and essential to a strong economy. Repealing this commonsense safeguard puts all of that at risk. The proposed repeal will remove Clean Water Act protections for the streams that feed the drinking water sources for more than 1 in 3 Americans. It will endanger 20 million acres of wetlands that provide habitat for wildlife throughout the nation. It could allow the pollution and destruction of the water resources small businesses like craft breweries and outdoor recreation companies rely on. Moreover, property values would be negatively impacted.
Repealing the Clean Water Rule is shortsighted and flies in the face of public opinion. More than 800,000 Americans supported the Clean Water Rule when it was proposed. It is grounded in science and the law. It is an essential tool to help us to get to goal of ensuring all of our waters are swimmable, fishable, and drinkable.
[Include your own thoughtful, compelling comment of how clean water is important to you]
Please stop the repeal process and get back to EPA’s mission – protecting human health and the environment.
Thank you for considering my concerns.
Lower Raritan Watershed, New Jersey