Pres. Obama has brought back Clean Water Act protections

Crater Lake, deepest lake in the US
Crater Lake, deepest lake in the United States
For decades, conservatives who support profitable development over natural resource protections have been chipping away at the vital protections of the Clean Water Act. But thanks to President Obama, this is no longer the case. The New York Times reports:

President Obama on Wednesday announced a sweeping new clean water regulation meant to restore the federal government’s authority to limit pollution in the nation’s rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands.

The Clean Water Rule, which would apply to about 60 percent of the nation’s water bodies, comes as part of a broader effort by Mr. Obama to use his executive authority to build a major environmental legacy, without requiring new legislation from the Republican-controlled Congress.

In an historic step for the protection of clean water, the Clean Water Rule was finalized today by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Army to clearly protect from pollution and degradation the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of our nation’s water resources. The rule is grounded in law and the latest science, and was shaped by public input. It does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.

Jennifer Peters, Water Programs Director for Clean Water Action , writes:

Earlier today I stood on the Anacostia River in Washington, DC with dozens of other clean water supporters to watch U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy sign the final Clean Water Rule. With this historic action, the Obama administration is restoring protection for critical water resources including the drinking water sources for one in three Americans.

For more than 12 years Clean Water Action has been leading the fight to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act that left more than half of our nation’s streams and more than 20 million acres of wetlands vulnerable to polluters and developers. Now these vital water resources are once again clearly protected by the Clean Water Act.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explains how important this rule is:

For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too. Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures – which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.


The health of our rivers, lakes, bays, and coastal waters are impacted by the streams and wetlands where they begin. And, people need clean water for their health too: About 117 million Americans – one in three people – get drinking water from streams that lacked clear protection before the Clean Water Rule.

Protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands has been confusing, complex, and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. EPA and the Army are taking this action today to provide clarity on protections under the Clean Water Act after receiving requests for over a decade from members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public for a rulemaking.

In developing the rule, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over one million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. EPA and the Army also utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies which showed that small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.

Specifically, the Clean Water Rule:

  • Clearly defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters. The Clean Water Act protects navigable waterways and their tributaries. The rule says that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water – a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark – to warrant protection. The rule provides protection for headwaters that have these features and science shows can have a significant connection to downstream waters.
  • Provides certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries because science shows that they impact downstream waters. The rule sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable.
  • Protects the nation’s regional water treasures. Science shows that specific water features can function like a system and impact the health of downstream waters. The rule protects prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California, and Texas coastal prairie wetlands when they impact downstream waters.
  • Focuses on streams, not ditches. The rule limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.
  • Maintains the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. The rule does not change how those waters are treated and encourages the use of green infrastructure.
  • Reduces the use of case-specific analysis of waters. Previously, almost any water could be put through a lengthy case-specific analysis, even if it would not be subject to the Clean Water Act. The rule significantly limits the use of case-specific analysis by creating clarity and certainty on protected waters and limiting the number of similarly situated water features.

Please sign on to thank President Obama for standing up for clean water!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.