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Ending Clean Water Rule Could Put MT Drinking Water At Risk

The Clean Water Rule protected the drinking water sources for about one in three Americans, according to the EPA. (Mark Byzewski/Flickr)
The Clean Water Rule protected the drinking water sources for about one in three Americans, according to the EPA. (Mark Byzewski/Flickr)
June 28, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - The Trump administration has made its first step toward repealing the Clean Water Rule, a safeguard put in place by the Obama administration to protect the country's rivers, streams and drinking-water supplies. The rule clarified which waterways required protection under the Clean Water Act.

Dave Chadwick, executive director of the Montana Wildlife Federation, said the rule eliminated a lot of uncertainty about where the Clean Water Act applied, which helped both advocates for clean water and the regulated industries. Most importantly, he said, it protected Americans' drinking water.

"This rule is not just about fish and wildlife habitat, nor is it just about theoretical regulatory jurisdiction," he said. "It really is about protecting clean water, which provides drinking-water supplies for millions of Americans."

The Clean Water Rule protects the headwater, rain-fed and seasonal streams of drinking-water sources for 117 million people, or about one in three Americans, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA chief Scott Pruitt said he wants to repeal it, to remove onerous regulations for farmers and businesses. However, Chadwick warned that repealing the rule would hurt Montana's world-class fishing.

"Endangering those headwater streams is ultimately going to impact fish populations, which means impacts on Montana's fishing opportunity and, ultimately, on our outdoor economy," Chadwick said, "because fishing is a big part of Montana's outdoor economy."

The administration is setting up a 30-day comment period for the proposed repeal. Chadwick said he thinks that's too short a time period for a rule that took years to craft.

Collin O'Mara, president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, said this is the first of two steps the administration will take. Next, it will propose a new rule.

"This could take years, potentially, and it unfortunately will likely wind up in court, because the suggestion that they've made so far about how they would approach the rule has already been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court," he said. "So, we're likely going to be in a phase of limbo for the next several years, where waterways will not be protected."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT