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Poll: Rural Tennesseans “All Wet” When it Comes to Streams

January 21, 2008

Nashville, TN – They may be small, but they're important: wetlands and small streams in rural Tennesseeans' neighborhoods and backyards. A new poll of rural voters shows most want more protection for these waters, even if they don't "float your boat."

U.S. Supreme Court rulings and federal agency "guidances" have weakened Clean Water Act protections, clearing the way for developers to pollute, or even destroy, small bodies of water considered unnavigable. Small-town Tennesseans don't like it, according to a new poll funded by Earthjustice.

Spokesperson Joan Mulhern says a majority of Tennessee's rural citizens seem to understand that all water is connected, whether it's downstream, underground or through evaporation and rainfall. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed say small bodies of water need more protection, not less.

"It shows a real misunderstanding of the hydrologic system to pretend that some of these waters can be polluted, or destroyed, and there won't be ramifications."

Those who favor lifting Clean Water Act protections for small wetlands and streams say the law limits private property rights. However, Congress is considering the "Clean Water Restoration Act" to make sure that small bodies of water are protected, too. Mulhern says the proposal puts the original intent back in the Clean Water Act.

"Congress knew better when it passed the Clean Water Act in 1972. The word 'isolated' appears nowhere in the law. The word 'all' appears in the law: 'all waters of the United States.'"

The complete poll results can be viewed online, at

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - TN