PHOENIX – Today, top Obama administration officials announced a final rule to restore Clean Water Act safeguards to small streams and headwaters that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly ten years. Loopholes created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 had left 94 percent of Arizona’s small streams, washes, headwaters, wetlands, and other waterways unprotected from pollution under the law.
"The water in Arizona’s rivers that we raft, fish, boat, and drink from can only be clean if the streams that flow into them are protected,” said Bret Fanshaw with Environment Arizona. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”
Today’s rule returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed the drinking water sources for over 3.2 million Arizonans – and one in three Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, will also again be shielded under federal law.
The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by The New York Times.
First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies across the country, including from mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers. Arizonans joined Americans across the country to submit 800,000 comments in favor of the rule last fall.
Environment Arizona, among those pushing for restored stream protections for the better part of the last decade, has gathered over 10,000 comments from Arizonans and held hundreds of face-to-face conversations about the need to close the loophole in the Clean Water Act in the last year alone.
“Arizonans clearly support actions to ensure we have clean water today and for future generations,” said Fanshaw. “With so many Arizona waterways at risk of pollution, the public really stepped up to voice their concerns.”
Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as two weeks ago.
While today’s action signaled the final chapter in the decade-long fight for small streams and headwaters, advocates warned today that U.S. Senate leaders were more determined than ever to use their authority derail the Clean Water Rule. Last Tuesday, a key subcommittee adopted a measure by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to thwart the rule. This summer, the Senate is likely to use the Congressional Review Act block the clean water protections, setting up a veto fight with the president.
“Today the administration signed and sealed critical protections for our drinking water, but they won’t get delivered if Congress stands in the way,” said Fanshaw. “For the sake of our rivers and lakes, and for our families’ health, we need our elected leaders to stand up to the polluters and choose clean water.”
Environment Arizona is statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentArizona.org