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North Carolina Groups Remind Lawmakers of Water's "Trickle Down" Economics

PHOTO: Conservation groups warn that amphibians are at risk with a lack of protection from changes made to the Clean Water Act by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
PHOTO: Conservation groups warn that amphibians are at risk with a lack of protection from changes made to the Clean Water Act by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
July 24, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Thousands of North Carolinians are joining forces to remind the federal government and their elected officials about the basic principles of gravity. More specifically, they want the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reinstate Clean Water Act rules that protect headwater streams and isolated wetlands in the state.

Similar regulations were in place at the time of the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, but they were overturned by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.

Jim Mabrey, North Carolina state chair with Trout Unlimited, says streams located at the top of mountains and in the center of prime real-estate development have been impacted by the change.

"If they don't do something to protect it, you start building houses and you start filling these little streams and ditches in with sediment," says Mabrey. "So it's no longer a stream then, it's just a mud hole."

Mabrey points out that frogs, bugs and other small animals call these areas home. A decline in their population would mean a decline in the food supply for larger animals and impact the overall ecosystem.

Opponents of a reinstatement of the rules say it would impact agriculture, but Fred Harris, natural resource specialist with the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, says that's simply not true. While the new rules would protect key water sources, he says there are exemptions to protect the interests of farmers.

"An important component of the proposed rule changes are things like farm ponds and ditches, things that farmers dig, are clearly not included," says Harris.

There are more than 242,000 miles of rivers and streams in North Carolina which supply drinking water for the state, and provide a home for the region's fish and wildlife. Mabrey says re-extending protection to areas that were initially protected in 1972 is the key to securing the "circle of life."

"The frogs, invertebrates, the small fish that use these streams to breed when they are flowing with rainwater, these waterways are where they raise their young," says Mabrey.

Wildlife recreation-related activities lead to more than three billion dollars spent every year in North Carolina, and that money supports more than 95,000 related jobs in the state.

The EPA has extended the comment period for the proposed Clean Water Act regulations until October.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC