A Ripple Effect: Restoring Protections Where Rivers are Born


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© Liz G. Deardorff

Our Waters Are Connected

I strongly support the administration relying on this science report to inform and advance rulemaking to protect these streams and wetlands as “Waters of the United States” that deserve the protection of the Clean Water Act.

I started whitewater canoeing 35 years ago, six years after the Clean Water Act  was passed with the noble goal of ensuring that all waters were fishable and swimmable. Over the course of time, I’ve seen first-hand rivers that were once denuded of stream side vegetation or void of fish return to life because of citizen-based groups working locally with protections provided by the Clean Water Act.

But, after thousands of trips boating hundreds of rivers, I still find myself canoeing rivers that are not habitable for healthy fish or safe for swimmers. From minor ear aches to life threatening infections from cuts, I’ve experienced firsthand the impact of water pollution. From the fiery orange of acid mine drainage, the frothy brown ‘whipped cream’ foam topping rivers surfaces and pools of trash too thick to push a canoe through I’ve also seen polluted waters.

I know the water pollution doesn’t always occur right where I may be dipping my paddle. Scientific research supports my knowledge that water upstream, and any pollution it might be carrying, flows downstream even if not evident in each paddle stroke. Unchecked development, harmful mining practices, or other activities that damage small headwater streams and wetlands have a ripple effect downstream.

These small headwater streams and wetlands are where every iconic river begins [PDF]. By trapping sediment and removing excess nutrients, creating habitat for fish and plants, and recharging groundwater, small streams and wetlands help provide the clean water I rely on for recreation. Unfortunately, protections for these waters are no longer guaranteed following two Supreme Court decisions in the early 2000s. As a result of limiting the scope of the Clean Water Act, our rivers are left more vulnerable to pollution and degradation.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently put forward a draft rule to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act for interagency review. This week, the EPA will be publicly reviewing a draft report that synthesizes the best available science on the connections between small streams, wetlands, and downstream waters. This science underscores the need to clarify the scope of the Clean Water Act.

How Can You Help?

At American Rivers, we support efforts to inform the rulemaking with strong science. We hope you’ll add your voice by signing the petition at right.

2 Responses to “A Ripple Effect: Restoring Protections Where Rivers are Born”

Jock Conyngham

Half of most watersheds drain to first and second order streams. They largely determine all that happens downstream and require the most the most robust protections available.