By LRWP Board President Heather Fenyk, Ph.D., AICP/PP
Today, October 18, 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA). To be sure, we owe a debt of gratitude to the shapers of the 1972 CWA for creating a law that significantly stemmed the flow of noxious point source pollutants into the nation’s waters. While we celebrate the successes of this seminal legislation, it is important to acknowledge the still unmet mandate of the CWA to bring about drinkable, fishable, swimmable waters. Water pollution remains a profound problem, with more than forty-seven thousand US waters still impaired. This includes every single stream, brook and river in the Lower Raritan Watershed. The major source of pollution into waters US and globally? Non-point source runoff from farm fields and the hardscape surfaces of our developed landscapes.
The LRWP believes we must chart a new path to meet drinkable, fishable, swimmable goals in the next 50 years:
In terms of strategy, centering the health of watersheds in environmental policymaking is key to realizing healthy waters.
This strategy must include integrated watershed management approaches that: 1) minimize impacts of land uses and development on waterways (good stormwater management is a start, however it does not go far enough as preventive practice); 2) require wastewater and stormwater be managed as assets; and 3) center the hydrologic cycle and aquatic systems in maintaining and restoring habitat connectivity.
On October 22 the LRWP will host a clean-up of the South River floodplain to recognize the 10th anniversary of SuperStorm Sandy. Reflecting on the impact of this storm we recall the catastrophic failure of Middlesex County Utilities Authority’s centralized sewage treatment facility. Sandy-related failure of the MCUA facility resulted in direct point source discharge of hundreds of millions of raw, untreated sewage into our waters. Observing how MCUA continues to discharge treated sanitary sewage into the Raritan River gives us pause. A holistic watershed management approach views wastewater as an asset, with water reclamation and reuse closing the loop between water supply and wastewater disposal. Setting an agenda for clean water for the next 50 years we must prioritize these better ways to clean up our waterways while meeting other sustainability goals.
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.
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.