What in the world is WOTUS? Simply put, it stands for Waters of the United States. Currently, the determination of what is a water of the U.S. is being questioned and could have damaging effects to the environment and people of this country.
In 2015, the Obama administration passed the Clean Water Rule (part of the Clean Water Act) to clarify rules for the management of our nation’s waterways — and pollution thereof. In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order for the review of the 2015 rule with the ultimate goal of rescinding or revising it. The revisions are now referred to as the Dirty Water Rule, which includes these changes:
- Eliminating protections from interstate waters, such as streams that flow through more than one state.
- Excluding from protection isolated water bodies that are not connected with downstream waterways, wetlands and prior converted agricultural lands and ephemeral watercourses (streams that flow only briefly during and following rainfall).
- Inviting comments on any and all other issues. This could create a slew of possible negative environmental factors. Policy experts speculate that this single change could lead to the elimination of water quality standards and regulation of oil spills, sewage dumping and more.
This would eliminate federal punishments for the dumping of pollutants into these waterways.
In a recent seminar, representatives from the National Resource Defense Council and National Wildlife Federation noted that this repeal would affect 70% of waters in the United States if passed. There has been no analysis by the Trump Administration of the effect these rule changes would have on public health and safety, environment and ecological systems, and the economy — a stark contrast to the countless hours the scientific community spent researching the 2015 Clean Water Rule prior to its implementation.
We can consider ourselves lucky here in Colorado. Our state officials have created stringent laws to protect our waterways. But our state would not go unaffected if this change were to be implemented.
Tribal nations (such as the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute nations in Colorado) are not subject to state law. This federal law would directly impact these communities that already struggle with clean water access in the arid desert.
Furthermore, we are an interconnected country. Any degradations upstream could flow right through our state. Not to mention that, like many of you, I have friends and family all over the country that would be hard hit by the Dirty Water Rule.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River fires in Ohio, which was caused by the unregulated dumping of industrial waste into the water. We cannot return to such conditions.
The public comment period is now closed, but a resounding 525,000 comments were received in the two months that public comment was open, showing the clear public concern for this issue.
So what can you do now? Even though the public comment period is closed, you can contact your political leaders and government agency representatives and ask them to oppose the Dirty Water Rule. Do it soon, however, as it is set to take effect at the end of this year.
The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers will ultimately decide the fate of this proposal. Write letters or send emails to them and your state officials to demand accountability from the deciding entities.
You can find your representatives at house.gov or senate.gov or by calling the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tweet using @EPA, #ProtectCleanWater, and #DirtyWaterRule to call attention to the issue. And most importantly, educate yourself and stay in tune with how this rulemaking is progressing by visiting epa.gov/wotus-rule or protectcleanwater.org for more information.
Kate Isaacson is the Projects & Events Coordinator for Eagle River Watershed Council. The Watershed Council has a mission to advocate for the health and conservation of the Upper Colorado and Eagle River basins through research, education, and projects. Contact the Watershed Council at (970) 827-5406 or visit http://www.erwc.org.
This article ran in the Vail Daily on July 17, 2019.