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Federal Proposal Could Impact NC's Clean Water

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Wednesday, March 27, 2019   

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – North Carolina groups are pushing back against a federal proposal they say would sink the Clean Water Act - and cost taxpayers more.

Environmental groups are making it a priority across the state to inform people about a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would strip federal protections from almost 50,000 miles of smaller streams and rivers in North Carolina.

Edgar Miller, executive director of Yadkin Riverkeeper, said the plan to revise portions of the Clean Water Act muddies the waters – literally.

"This could potentially drive up the cost of water treatment," he said, "passing the cost from business and developers that benefit from this rule change, to taxpayers and ratepayers."

Miller said the proposal introduces a complex set of definitions and calculations to determine which streams or wetlands fall under the Clean Water Act, and would remove protections for nearly half the linear streams in North Carolina. The EPA has said the Clean Water Act has been interpreted too broadly, and wasn't intended to cover smaller or seasonal bodies of water.

At issue is how the changes would compromise water quality and quantity, as well as wildlife habitat.

Yadkin Riverkeeper will host a discussion from 5 to 7 p.m. today at Foothills Brewery, 638 W. Fourth St., Winston-Salem. The forum will include Geoff Gisler, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

"Think of going to the big rivers that we like to swim and fish and play in," he said. "All those big rivers are made up of small streams, and if we lose protection for those small streams, then we know what happens downstream, because we've seen it. Back in the '60s and '50s, waters were so polluted that no one went near them."

Gisler said the Clean Water Act has bipartisan support in protecting people from contaminated waterways and drinking-water sources. In past years, he said, it prompted major cleanups that have benefited communities.

"Small towns and cities across the state actually turned away from their river; they built their main streets away from the rivers," he said. "And what we've seen over the last 40 or 50 years is that, as waters have gotten cleaner, you see rivers become the centerpieces of cities."

More information is online at yadkinriverkeeper.org. The public comment period ends April 15 at epa.gov.

Reporting by North Carolina News Connection in association with Media in the Public Interest and funded in part by the Park Foundation.


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