Most of us know that water is essential for life and a limited resource that is critical to the economy, especially here in Georgia.
As a former attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Atlanta and Washington D.C., I’ve been working to protect clean water since the 1970s. We litigated some of the very first cases in which courts confirmed that Congress exercised its constitutional authority properly when it asserted broad jurisdiction over the nation’s waters, and I led the federal and state interagency team that wrote the regulations for wetlands protections.
What we knew back then and what’s even clearer today is that small streams are the foundation of our aquatic systems. The rainfall they collect is the source of much of the water we depend on for irrigation, manufacturing, recreation and domestic use. Those streams and associated wetlands also support diverse communities of plants and animals, providing habitat and nurseries for birds, fish and game. Without proper safeguards in place, uncontrolled pollution could damage and even destroy these sensitive ecosystems.
Alarmingly, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have published a proposal that seeks to redefine which waters are protected as “waters of the United States.” The proposal would remove federal protections for millions of miles of small streams across the nation—including more than 53,000 miles of smaller streams in Georgia—as well as millions of acres of wetlands.
Taking these drastic actions would set us back almost 50 years, where unregulated discharges of dredged or fill material would once again threaten permanent obliteration of many freshwater marshes, swamps, small streams and ponds—waters we know are critically important to human health and natural ecosystems.
To prevent the decimation of long-standing clean water protections that have proven effective, we must speak up collectively, just as we did to reverse the widespread water pollution that was occurring in the 1960s. Because we made our voices heard, leaders in both political parties listened to the public’s demands to stop polluting our waterways. As a result, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act of 1972, with a bipartisan vote large enough to override President Nixon’s veto.
Citizen participation can succeed once again, but only if the agencies actually hear from citizens. Because public comments on the proposal are due no later than April 15, each one of us who depends on clean water must take immediate action and submit comments today. Submit to: Federal eRulemaking Portal:https://www.regulations.gov. Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149. Or simplify by going through ProtectSouthernWater.org.
Participation is not a waste of time—your voice matters and the total number of comments will also be considered.
Urge the agencies to preserve strong protections for waters of the United States rather than weaken them, and tell them that adopting this reckless proposal would fail to achieve the objective of the Clean Water Act “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters.”
It’s just common sense to continue the broad jurisdiction that enables prevention of water pollution at the source. We have proved already that the current approach works, and it’s time to prove once again that our voices matter when it comes to demanding clean water protections.
Vance Hughes is a former attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice.