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New Threats to Clean Water Rules Expected This Week

EPA rules to protect streams, such as the headwaters of the Colorado River, that feed into drinking water sources of one in three Americans could become part of the latest budget battle in Congress. Credit: National Park Service.
EPA rules to protect streams, such as the headwaters of the Colorado River, that feed into drinking water sources of one in three Americans could become part of the latest budget battle in Congress. Credit: National Park Service.
December 1, 2015

DENVER - New federal policies to protect streams that feed into the drinking water sources of one in three Americans are at risk as the year ends.

Starting this week, said Andy Schultheiss, a political consultant for the National Wildlife Federation, proposals to block the Environmental Protectiuon Agency's Clean Water Rules are expected to become "riders" attached to spending legislation Congress has to pass in order to avoid a government shutdown.

Since upstream pollution eventually makes its way downstream, Schultheiss said, the rules are especially important for Colorado - a headwaters state for people and wildlife on both sides of the Continental Divide.

"And it just so happens that those are the same streams where you have trout hatcheries and where waterfowl survive on," he said. "So, for sportsmen in particular, it's a very immediate threat."

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and others representing states rich in agriculture and oil and gas production have voted to block the regulations, so those operations won't have to clean up what they release into waterways. In early November, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and others stepped in to keep the protections in place.

The new rules also protect the nation's wetlands, which help curb flooding, filter pollution and provide habitat for many fish and game species.

Dave Leinweber, who runs a fly-fishing shop and guide service on the Front Range, said he hopes Bennet will continue to support the rules.

"I really kind of applaud what Bennet did," he said. "We need some clear guidelines on how we treat our water, and how we preserve it, so we can hold and sustain the values that we have."

In a National Wildlife Federation poll, almost 80 percent of sportsmen and women and small-business owners across the political spectrum said they support restoring Clean Water Act protections. Only 6 percent thought the rules would dampen economic growth. The survey is online at nwf.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO