Proposed Revisions to WOTUS Reduce Clean Water Protections

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Yuba River Waterkeeper LogoAs the official Yuba River Waterkeeper and a member of the Waterkeeper Alliance, SYRCL is a proud signer of this important comment document.

SYRCL established the Yuba River Waterkeeper as a program dedicated to fostering regional and statewide coalitions to address complex issues related to water quality and watershed health including the restoration of wild salmon. Yuba River Waterkeeper’s aim is to combine SYRCL’s 34-year record of strong local, grassroots advocacy with the power of the Waterkeeper Alliance, an international coalition of river advocates.

EPA and the Corps’ attempts to revoke Clean Water Act protections from waters is an illegal effort that puts drinking water and public health at risk.

Waterkeeper Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Food Safety, Turtle Island Restoration Network, South Yuba River Citizens League and 115 Waterkeeper Organizations and Affiliates submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) urging the agencies to withdraw their Proposed Rule and meaningfully engage the public and states in any future process to review, rescind or revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS).

The federal Clean Water Act (CWA) is essential to protect rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and coastal waters, and to protect the people and communities that depend on clean water for their survival. A clear, broad definition of WOTUS is critical to protecting the drinking water for millions of Americans, reducing the public’s exposure to toxic metals and pollution, and preventing the contamination of thousands of miles of waterways across the country.

EPA and the Corps’s misguided effort to redefine WOTUS relies on a severely inadequate administrative process to revoke the Obama administration’s 2015 Clean Water Rule and replace it with what amounts to a vague, moving target subject to nearly unlimited agency discretion. The Proposed Rule is the epitome of the illegal, discretion abusing agency practices EPA Administrator Pruitt accuses others of engaging in. It violates the CWA, the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, and clearly ignores Congress’s intent for the CWA to fully protect the nation’s waters and aquatic ecosystems.

“The Clean Water Act cannot prevent pollution at its source if the receiving waters are not protected by it,” said Waterkeeper Alliance Senior Attorney Kelly Hunter Foster. “The current administration is attempting to remove essential water protections, putting millions of Americans at risk, all with the intent of allowing more pollution instead of protecting the public. The proposed revisions to WOTUS will diminish, rather than restore, our ability to protect our country’s waters.”

The CWA’s definition of WOTUS is essential to the protection of human health, the wellbeing of communities, the success of local, state and national economies, and the functioning of our nation’s vast, interconnected aquatic ecosystems, as well as the many threatened and endangered species that depend on those resources. If a stream, river, lake, or wetland is not included in the definition of “waters of the United States,” untreated toxic, biological, chemical, and radiological pollution can be discharged directly into those waters without meeting any of the CWA’s permitting and treatment requirements. Excluded waterways could be dredged, filled and polluted with impunity because the CWA’s most fundamental human health and environmental safeguard — the prohibition on unauthorized discharges — would no longer apply.

Clean water is important to nearly every aspect of our lives and livelihoods but most importantly, it is essential to life itself. As a nation, we cannot have clean water unless we control pollution at its source — wherever that source may be.

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