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What EPA's Clean-Water Proposal Means for Oregon

PHOTO: Mossy Creek, a tributary of the Salmon River, is one of many smaller Oregon streams that doesn't receive Clean Water Act protections. The EPA has proposed a rule to protect more small or seasonal streams. Photo credit: Nic Callero, National Wildlife Federation.
PHOTO: Mossy Creek, a tributary of the Salmon River, is one of many smaller Oregon streams that doesn't receive Clean Water Act protections. The EPA has proposed a rule to protect more small or seasonal streams. Photo credit: Nic Callero, National Wildlife Federation.
April 1, 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing a rule it says will clarify which bodies of water are covered by the Clean Water Act - and, perhaps just as important, which are not. For Oregon, the difference could be critical for hundreds of miles of streams, as well as for native fish species from salmon to bull trout.

Clarifying the 40-year-old law with an update is equally critical for people, said Nic Callero, manager of regional outreach campaigns, National Wildlife Federation in Oregon.

"According to the EPA, 1.7 million Oregon residents - nearly half the state's population - receive their drinking water from areas that are currently not covered by the Clean Water Act," Callero said. "What this rule will do is fix that."

The original intent of the Clean Water Act was watered down by Supreme Court cases in the last decade, he explained. NWF has pointed to the recent chemical contamination of water supplies in West Virginia as a reason for regulators to be more clear about where permits are required to discharge pollution or divert water.

At WaterWatch of Oregon, a group that handles water-related issues, communications director Jim McCarthy said they see plenty of hazards to clean water cropping up around the state - and often the law is unclear about whose responsibility it is to deal with them. He shared one recent example.

"Somebody dug a 10-foot by 20-foot by 4-foot trench directly into a seasonal stream bed on public land, to use that water for mining," MCarthy said. "Various agencies have sort of thrown up their hands and said, 'Oh, we don't have jurisdiction here. There's no clarity here.'"

McCarthy predicts opposition to the EPA proposal, mostly from agriculture interests and land developers, although the rule keeps some existing exemptions for farming and ranching. It will soon be up for public comment.

Information about the proposed rule is available at www2.epa.gov.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR