Small Streams in the Spotlight Again – A Move to Restore Clean Water Protections

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Garden Canyon River, AZ | © Arizona Office of Tourism
Garden Canyon River, AZ | © Arizona Office of Tourism

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.

Growing up just outside of Atlanta, I spent many hours playing in and exploring the small creek that ran through our neighborhood. Whether I was a pirate, jungle explorer or boat maker, my creek provided a welcome refuge from homework and suburban sprawl.

I don’t think my story is uncommon. Across the country, the majority of stream miles are made up of these tiniest of creeks, streams, and rivulets, making them an important part of our landscape and memories.

At the time, I didn’t realize that my little creek was connected to the larger Peavine Creek, which flowed into the South Fork of Peachtree Creek, to Peachtree Creek, and finally to the Chattahoochee River, which provides the drinking water for millions in metropolitan Atlanta. Like the capillaries in our bodies that provide critical connections to our circulatory system, small streams like these are critical to protecting clean drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife, and reducing flooding.

Fortunately, the Members of Congress who wrote the Clean Water Act understood this scientific connection, and realized that achieving clean water required protection of all of our waters, not just our mighty rivers. That’s why for 30 years the agencies responsible for implementing the Clean Water Act have based protections on a broad definition necessary to protect clean water.

Since 2006, though, Court rulings, poor agency guidance, and pressure from polluters have reduced protections for our small streams and wetlands [PDF], placing the drinking water source for over 117 million Americans at-risk. Confusion over what streams remain protected has led to a decline in enforcement. Over a four-year period, for example, there was a failure to prosecute more than 1,500 major pollution investigations of companies that spilled oil, carcinogens, and bacteria into rivers, lakes, and streams.

The good news now is that the Obama Administration has sent a draft rule to clarify what waters are protected for interagency review. Although the exact content of the draft is as yet unknown to the public, it will be based on the most recent science. EPA just released a scientific report “Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence” that will be further reviewed by a panel of experts to ensure the best science informs the rulemaking process. American Rivers strongly supports the Administration’s efforts to address this important clean water issue and we hope you’ll add your voice, supporting the EPA’s efforts by signing the petition at right.

Our small streams are both critically important for clean water as well as special places that are accessible wherever you live. My daughter now enjoys the creek in our backyard – we hope that it get the protections it needs and deserves.