Last month, the Trump administration announced the repeal of the 2015 Clean Water Rule (also known as “Waters of the United States”) under the Clean Water Act (CWA). These new changes will weaken the protection of the nation’s waters by allowing the Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce the number of waterways it protects.
The Clean Water Rule of 2015 was implemented by the Obama administration to expand protection for water systems using new scientific knowledge. They found that it is important to protect small water systems including streams and wetlands because they affect larger water systems like rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Additionally, many wetlands and open waters act as filters that protect these larger water systems.
The repeal gives freedom to farmers and industrial businesses to discharge materials and chemicals into wetlands and open waters, including ditches and ponds, without a permit. These materials and chemicals can easily travel into the water and affect the health of ecosystems and aquatic life. The Chesapeake Bay Watershed, which reaches into New York, suffers from this type of discharge. Runoff is transported from land into streams and rivers, to eventually end up in the bay. In 2015, the Chesapeake Bay Program found nitrogen, phosphorous, and sediment in the bay. These pollutants caused an increase in algae blooms, which deteriorated the bay and aquatic life.
It is clear that if all waters are not protected, water quality and marine life will be at risk.
The repeal was released to the public on December 2018. After reviewing public comments, the final repeal was finalized and released last month. It allows the Trump administration to replace the 2015 definition with the 1986 less-protective version of the Clean Water Rule. They are expected to release their own watered-down version of the Clean Water Rule this winter.
Luckily, states are fighting the repeal. Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia submitted a joint comment stating that a repeal would leave our waters unprotected and leave marine life at risk.
NYLCV will continue to advocate for policies that protect water quality on the federal, state, and local levels.