What Does a Government Shutdown Mean for Rivers?
Rivers and those who depend upon them will pay a price if the government shutdown continues much longer. The causes of the shutdown, the legislative battles over the Affordable Care Act, the debt ceiling, sequestration, and other budget arcana, are a reflection of the deep partisan divide that is gripping not just the Congress, but also the country.
It’s been my experience that, for the most part, conserving rivers is a non-partisan issue. We all want to drink clean water. We all want our kids to be able to swim and fish and boat in rivers, lakes, and streams that are free from pollution. We all want to have the opportunity to visit and enjoy the rivers that flow through our nation’s treasured landscapes, and the wildlife that lives there.
Sure, there have been some recent attempts by right-wing extremists to expedite the construction of more and bigger dams at taxpayer expense, while waiving the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and other laws that protect rivers. But fortunately those attempts haven’t gone anywhere.
For the most part, rivers have only been collateral damage in the budget wars, as the programs that protect and restore rivers at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and other federal agencies are slashed as part of the larger fight over the role of government and the fiscal health of the nation.
But this budget battle is different, because the government is shut down. What does that mean for people who love rivers? Here are just a few of the impacts:
- The National Park System is closed. Period. Did you win the lottery for a Colorado River trip through the Grand Canyon? Sorry, no can go. Are you planning on getting married in a National Park this weekend? Better check the flights to Vegas instead. Were you planning on taking your son and daughter on their first fishing trip in Yellowstone? You’re out of luck, and so is the fly shop owner you were planning to buy fishing tackle from, and the owner of the diner where you were going to get breakfast before you started your day.
- EPA is shutting down its water program. Do you worry about raw sewage pouring into your favorite river when there is a heavy rain? You might want to steer clear of it for a while because the people at EPA who are working on producing the forthcoming rule to fight stormwater pollution have been told to stay home. Do you like to fish in small mountain streams, or hunt ducks in prairie potholes? You will have to watch outdoors shows on television instead, as the federal employees working on the upcoming rule that will restore the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction over headwater streams and wetlands have been told to turn their computers off. The critical work these dedicated public servants do to make our rivers clean and safe has come to a screeching halt.
- Nor will EPA be doing much enforcing of the Clean Water Act. For anyone who wants to see water pollution shut down, forget about it. It’s a shutdown for everyone except polluters.
It’s sad that so many people, from the federal workers who are furloughed, to the people who were planning on enjoying our National Parks, to all of us who care about clean water and healthy rivers aren’t able to take advantage of this wonderful time of year.
After all, it’s the first of October and as a Massachusetts native, I can say that this is truly the most glorious time of the year: Fall foliage, warm afternoons and cool nights, the Red Sox having the best record in baseball. Is there a better time to get out to enjoy a day on your favorite river (as long as you get back in time for the first pitch)?
At American Rivers, we know all about what happens when you remove barriers. When we take a dam out, we improve the connectivity and quality of a river. It’s time for Congress to heed those lessons as well.
Congress should stop erecting barriers between government and the people it serves. Instead, Congress should end the shutdown, fund the government, and get back to business working for solutions that improve our quality of life and connect all of us as Americans.