Updates, Protect Clean Water, Water Quality
December 17 2018

Dirty Water Rule

by Mara Dias

The Trump Administration turns the Clean Water Act on its head and releases a Dirty Water Rule that favors development and industry interests over the rights of all citizens to clean water for drinking, swimming and fishing.

With the release of the new proposed Waters of the U. S. Rule, the Environmental Protection Agency continues to serve the anti-regulation agenda of the administration and has literally launched the biggest attack on clean water in our generation.  

What is the Waters of the U. S. Rule?

Under the previous administration, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized the 2015 Waters of the U. S. Rule (Clean Water Rule) to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act. The Clean Water Rule restored CWA protections to intermittent streams and wetlands as previously interpreted by both Republican and Democratic lead administrations before two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 & 2006 made enforcement of the Clean Water Act unclear.  The regulatory uncertainty that followed was a problem for everyone, and decisions had to be made on a case-by-case basis, costing both applicants and regulatory agencies time and money, and often leaving important water resources unprotected.

The 2015 Clean Water Rule restored protections to nearly 20 million acres of wetlands and two million miles of streams that provide drinking water for 117 million Americans. These upstream waters also provide flood protection and recreational opportunities, and support healthy communities and strong economies in both inland areas and at the coast.

Unfortunately, the 2015 Clean Water Rule was not popular with polluting industry interests and its implementation has been held up in court.  Meanwhile the EPA, lead by Scott Pruitt and his successor, has repealed the Clean Water Rule and has just issued a new Waters of the U. S. Rule which puts our nations wetlands and streams at real risk of pollution without consequence to those who pollute our waterways to increase corporate profit.

What has changed under the new Dirty Water Rule?  

The Dirty Water Rule is a radical reinterpretation of the Clean Water Act that will wipe out protections for streams that provide drinking water to tens of millions of people and wetlands that filter pollution and protect our communities from flooding. 

We’re losing wetlands at an alarming rate across the country and it’s putting communities at risk. We’ve seen coastal communities truly suffer during flooding events after wetlands have been lost -- as evidenced by the devastating impacts of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Florence, and Michael. The problem will be exacerbated under this new Dirty Water Rule that strips protections from tens of millions of acres of wetlands that communities across the country rely on to absorb floodwaters and filter ground water.

No body of water should be open for pollution or destruction, but that is exactly what this proposal does by stripping Clean Water Act protections from critical streams and wetlands. The Dirty Water Rule makes no scientific, legal, public health, or fiscal sense. Wiping out clear Clean Water Act protections for important headwaters will put larger streams, wetlands, and lakes at risk of pollution and destruction.

What can you do?

The Surfrider Foundation has joined a coalition of environmental organizations across the nation to review and provide comment on this massive, new rule that will change how water is protected in this country.  A short, 60-day, public comment period will likely be announced soon and the first order of business will be to petition for more time to process and understand the implications of the rule and prepare our comments.  Regardless of our success on this request, we will be submitting our comments against this ill-intentioned proposal and will provide guidance to our partners and members to help them submit their own comments to EPA directly that communicate why clean water is important and to ask EPA to do more to protect clean water, not less.

Stay tuned to this issue here and start thinking about ways you can help describe why clean water is so important to you, your family, your business and your community.  Be ready to start the new year by making a stand to #StandUpForCleanWater.

Learn more about the Surfrider Foundation’s long-standing support for a strong Waters of the U. S./Clean Water Rule here.