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Clean Water Act Birthday: Clarification in the Pipeline

PHOTO: The EPA is taking comments on a proposed rule that would clarify which waterways receive protection under the Clean Water Act. Photo courtesy of Wild Virginia.
PHOTO: The EPA is taking comments on a proposed rule that would clarify which waterways receive protection under the Clean Water Act. Photo courtesy of Wild Virginia.
October 16, 2014

RICHMOND, Va. – Saturday is the anniversary of the enactment of the Clean Water Act, and the federal government wants to hear from the public about the landmark law.

In recent years, court decisions have clouded the waters on where the key pollution law applies – especially when it comes to small mountain headwaters and lowland wetlands.

Emily Russell, policy and campaigns manager for the Healthy Rivers Initiative at the Virginia Conservation Network, says a new proposal put forward by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would protect Blue Ridge headwaters and wetlands in eastern Virginia – and protect drinking water for folks like her who live in Richmond and other cities.

"It might be concerning to you to know that there are many tiny streams that feed the James River that are receiving pollution because they're not currently clearly protected," she says.

Russell points out the drinking water of more than 2.25 million Virginians would get better protection under the new EPA rule.

The agency is taking comments though early November.

The Clean Water Act went into effect Oct. 18, 1972.

Critics of the law argue that it creates red tape for industry. But Russell counters that the act brought about a revolution in the condition of American waterways.

She points out America still has water pollution worries, but before the law passed, there were rivers in the U.S. that actually caught fire.

Today, Russell says, Americans can fish and swim in them.

"You hear a lot of doom and gloom about the Chesapeake Bay, and the oyster populations, and mountaintop removal mining destroying streams in southwest Virginia,” she stresses. “But if you can imagine, it would be far worse."

Russell says a good, clear rule would actually lower costs for businesses applying for permits.

The EPA is taking comments from all sides on the proposal, and Russell says folks should contact the agency to talk about the waterways they feel are important.

She says comments can be submitted on the EPA website.

She also recommends talking to elected officials about how important these smaller waterways are.

"Based in science there are many, many connections between our waterways,” stresses. “We're not operating in a vacuum here. And as a result it's reasonable for the EPA to want to protect these water bodies."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA