Small Streams Matter – Clean Water Restoration Act Needed Now

I was listening to the hearing on the Clean Water Restoration Act in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee the other day – and what struck me was how little streams have so many powerful groups (and politicians) running scared! The legislation would reaffirm the traditional scope of the Clean Water Act, which has been chipped away by confusing Court decisions and poor agency guidance, to ensure clean drinking water for millions. Some opposition groups are using tactics to scare their members – like claiming that puddles will be regulated – and these wild claims have made their way into the political debate.

But maybe these folks are right to be scared of small streams, because they are powerful after all…. powerful that is at cleaning the water and preventing flooding. A recent scientific article in the journal Nature added to the well established heap of science showing that small streams play a powerful role in removing pollution. One coauthor, Stephen Hamilton, said: “the trick is to allowing lazy, meandering rivers to do their job instead of diverting them into straight drainage ditches that act more like water pipes and less like filters.” Small streams are also powerful in keeping us safe from floods, no small feat in the face of global warming.

A majority of states strongly support protecting these small streams that flow together to become our big rivers. As part of her written testimony, Arizona’s Director for Water Quality, Joan Card, stated that over 200 million gallons a day of municipal and industrial sewage could be dumped by polluters into small streams flowing into populated areas if these streams are no longer covered by the Clean Water Act, which is likely given that 96% of the states streams are now at risk after 30 plus years of protection.

Federal safeguards are also needed for people in other states where clean water is already being challenged. In Tennessee, a proposed state law would severely restrict clean water protection and is being opposed by many including our colleague Rene Hoyos of the Tennessee Clean Water Network.

Small streams matter – to people upstream and downstream who rely on clean water. The Clean Water Restoration Act is needed now to reaffirm their protection and restore certainty to an increasingly ineffective regulatory system.