“The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.” -Lynn Noel 

Don’t turn back the clock

From the Great Lakes to the Colorado River, from Puget Sound to the Chesapeake Bay, America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waters are where we go to swim, fish, canoe, kayak or just enjoy the scenery. They supply us with clean drinking water.

However, far too often we’re reminded of the bad old days, when polluters used many of America’s waters as their own private sewers:

In January 2014, a 10,000-gallon chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River left 300,000 people without water. They couldn’t drink it, bathe in it, shower with it, cook with it, or even wash the dishes with it.

A month later, a Duke Energy pipeline collapsed, spreading more than 39,000 tons of coal ash along 70 miles of North Carolina’s Dan River.

Just six months later, in August 2014, a toxic algae bloom left 400,000 people in and around Toledo, Ohio, without drinking water. The algae contained cyanotoxin—a substance so potent that the military considered “weaponizing” it. Toledo faced problems again last year, when the algae bloom hit again

We’ve worked hard to protect our waters and we’re doing all we can now to keep polluters from turning back the clock to the days when Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught on fire. 

Even greater jeopardy

Unfortunately, polluting industries have put our waters in even greater jeopardy. They’ve been pushing to weaken the Clean Water Act ever since it first passed more than 40 years ago. After spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawyers, they carved loopholes in the law that left more than half of America’s streams open to pollution.

The loopholes put nearly 2 million miles of our streams at risk, threatening the drinking water of 117 million Americans. They also put at risk 20 million acres of wetlands, an area the size of South Carolina and home to millions of birds and fish. 

As a result of these loopholes, hundreds of polluters were able to escape penalties. 

For example, as Pro Publica reported, “in 2007, when an oil company discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Titus County, Tex., the EPA did not issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require cleanup.

“Similarly, after a farming operation dumped manure into tributaries that fed Lake Blackshear in Georgia, the EPA did not seek to hold the polluting company responsible—despite the fact that tests showed unsafe levels of bacteria and viruses in the lake, which was regularly used for waterskiing and other recreation. 

In a single 18-month period, Clean Water Act loopholes undermined 500 EPA water pollution cases.

Fortunately, the EPA agreed to act, proposing a new rule that would close the loopholes so the agency could enforce the law and stop the polluters.

"Legal warfare"

However, polluting industries lobbied furiously to stop us. 

Our adversaries included big oil and gas companies, which have thousands of miles of pipelines running through wetlands. They threatened legal warfare against the plan to restore protections to these wetlands. 

Coal companies, which have a history of dumping the wastes from their mining into mountain streams, and stood to benefit if the Clean Water Act failed to protect these streams.

Powerful developers who want to pave over wetlands without restrictions. A Michigan developer named Rapanos filed one of the court cases that created the loopholes. 

Huge factory farms who generate millions of pounds of animal manure each year, some of which runs off into our water. These big agribusinesses and their congressional allies unleashed a smear campaign, designed to scare ordinary farmers into believing the EPA was out to grab their land and even “regulate puddles.” The smears were, of course, completely untrue. 

Winning the biggest step forward for clean water in a decade 

You gave us the resources to advocate in Congress, recruit and mobilize a diverse and powerful coalition, and rally the grassroots to demand action. 

  • Together with our allies, we gathered more than 800,000 comments and held more than half a million face-to-face conversations about the need to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act.
  • With the influential voices of more than 1,000 farmers, business owners and local elected officials behind us, our visibility events and media outreach efforts countered Big Ag’s smear campaign against the rule.
  • With the rule under threat, our national team held meetings with more than 50 congressional offices, urging them to champion the voice of the public and stand up for clean water. 
In 2015, our efforts paid off when President Obama finalized the Clean Water Rule, restoring federal protections to more than half the nation’s streams, which feed drinking water sources for one in three Americans.

 

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (sitting, right) and U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo Ellen Darcy (sitting, left) signed the Clean Water for America rule on May 27, 2015, with Margie Alt, Environment America executive director (second from left). 

The fight for clean water continues

The Trump administration has called for eliminating this protection, calling it “burdensome” and “unnecessary" 

Is environmental protection “burdensome”? Sure. That’s the idea: to put the burden of responsibility on those who would otherwise pollute our environment.

Is protecting the waters we love and depend upon “unnecessary”? Even smaller streams and wetlands?

Of course not. What happens upstream doesn’t stay upstream. Small streams flow into bigger streams and rivers. Wetlands act as sponges that filter pollutants before they reach waterways.

The bottom line: Clean water isn’t a luxury we can’t afford or an unnecessary burden. It’s the wellspring of a healthy and thriving America.

To most Americans, this is just common sense. But it’s a message our senators need to hear loud and clear  from you.

Clean Water Updates

Headline

NC Child Care Centers Must Test For Lead

Child care centers in North Carolina are now required to test for lead in their tap water.  The Commission for Public Health, the public health rulemaking body for North Carolina, has adopted a rule requiring the testing after a study of 86 centers in Central North Carolina found one in six had at least one tap with elevated lead levels.

> Keep Reading
Headline

Guest column: Get the lead out of drinking water in our schools

By now, schoolchildren in North Carolina have brought markers, scissors, folders and other supplies to class. Yet there is one key supply that many of our children lack as they begin a new school year: safe, lead-free water at school. 

> Keep Reading
Headline

NC got an ‘F’ for unsafe school drinking water. Activists want the lead out of schools.

Environmental activists have launched a new campaign to protect children from drinking lead-contaminated water in schools following a national report that gave North Carolina a failing grade for safe school drinking water. North Carolina was among 22 states that got an “F” grade for not getting rid of lead from school drinking water, according to Environment America Research & Policy Center and U.S. PIRG Education Fund. This week, Environment North Carolina released a back-to-school toolkit that gives the public information on how to get the lead out of schools.

> Keep Reading
Headline

Group reports dirty water at North Carolina beaches and calls for daily testing

More than 100 North Carolina beaches and waterways were potentially unsafe for swimming at least one day last year because they were contaminated with bacteria that makes people sick. A report by Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center released Monday said 127 of 213 areas in the state had levels of fecal contamination that made swimming unsafe on at least one day in 2018.

> Keep Reading
News Release | Environment America

Statement: House passes suite of clean water safeguards on “forever chemicals”

The U.S. House approved a bipartisan measure today to protect America’s water and air from toxic “forever chemicals” best known by the acronym PFAS. The PFAS Action Act (H.R. 535) passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 247–159. Environment America has long advocated for stronger protections on PFAS as part of its No Toxics On Tap campaign. The national nonpartisan organization successfully worked with Congress last year to phase out the military’s use of these chemicals in firefighting foams under the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. While that phaseout was a significant step, the PFAS Action Act takes further action to curtail continuing sources of pollution to water and air as well as establish new provisions to clean up existing contamination.

> Keep Reading

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