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A Wish for Restored Protections as Clean Water Act Turns 42

PHOTO: Saturday marks the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, and the EPA is currently accepting public comments on a proposal the agency says would strengthen protection of streams and wetlands. Photo credit: Rich Mullins/morguefile.
PHOTO: Saturday marks the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, and the EPA is currently accepting public comments on a proposal the agency says would strengthen protection of streams and wetlands. Photo credit: Rich Mullins/morguefile.
October 17, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - This Saturday marks the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Before the legislation was put in place, only one-third of the country's waters were deemed safe for fishing and swimming, but now that number has doubled.

Cindy Skrukrud, clean water advocate with the Illinois Chapter of the Sierra Club, says the best present we could give the landmark law is a restoration of protections for streams and wetlands, left vulnerable after Supreme Court decisions. She adds, an EPA proposal would do that, without extending protections farther than were historically established in 1972.

"It clarifies that the Clean Water Act does extend to the small streams and wetlands that are at the headwaters of our river system," says Skrukrud.

In March, the EPA said the proposal would improve the quality of drinking water supplies for a third of all Americans. Opponents of the additional rules say they would have a negative impact on agriculture, but supporters say the provisions actually exempt agriculture and would protect farmers.

Skrukrud says in Illinois, 1.6 million people rely on drinking water sources that originate from these small streams and wetlands. She says they play a vital role in the overall health of the water system.

"The wetlands and streams in the upper regions of our watersheds cleanse the water; they provide important habitat," says Skrukrud. "Wetlands especially are very important when we have rainstorms that they store floodwaters."

More than 700,000 members of the public have submitted comments supporting the rule. Comments are being accepted through Nov. 14.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL