Waters of the United States are under attack! EPA is considering rescinding protections for clean water. Removing the rule would put drinking water, rivers and wildlife at risk. The EPA comment period closes at the end of the day on Wednesday September 27. Read the letter we submitted in opposition to the action below.
September 26, 2017
For Open Comment Period Docket ID
Dear Ms. Downing:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposal to “recodify” (rescind) the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The rule clarified which wetlands and small waterways would be protected under the landmark 1972 environmental law, the Clean Water Act.
NCAP is submitting comments as a stakeholder long-interested in the health of aquatic systems for fish, wildlife, and people.
We oppose this detrimental attempt to overturn the WOTUS rule enacted in 2015. More than eighty percent of commenters on the 2015 rule supported it.
The 2015 WOTUS rule clarified which types of waters are a) protected categorically, b) protected case-by-case or c) not covered. Tributaries, formerly evaluated case by case, are now automatically included if they have features of flowing water – a bed, a bank and a high water mark. Open waters without beds and banks will be evaluated case by case. “Adjacent waters,” such as wetlands and ponds near tributaries, are protected if they lie within defined physical and measurable boundaries. Certain “isolated waters” not connected to navigable waters, such as prairie potholes and California vernal pools, are also protected.
Water cannot be kept clean without protecting its source. The watershed is a fundamental concept in hydrology. We believe that the 2015 clarifications are appropriate and in the best interest of the country.
The rule has come under attack by some agricultural and industry groups, for reasons many decry as spurious. We understand that farmers tend to be wary of new regulation and often believe that voluntary approaches to protecting water quality are sufficient. It’s worth pointing out that amongst the uproar created by some farm groups, the National Farmers Union (NFU) quietly pointed out, after EPA finalized the 2015 rule, that:
EPA has made genuine efforts in reaching out to agriculture stakeholders in the rule-making process and the final rule clearly demonstrates that the agency took the concerns of family agriculture under serious consideration…The final rule puts bright-line limits on jurisdiction over neighboring waters, offering farmers increased regulatory certainty and mitigating the risk of enforcement or litigation. The final rule also provides more clarity on which ditches fall under the Clean Water Act jurisdiction, removing a gray area that has caused farmers and ranchers an incredible amount of concern.
NFU also helped to contrasted myths and facts about the rule. NFU acknowledged that the 2015 rule protects clean water without interfering with farming; does not propose regulation of most ditches, groundwater, shallow subsurface flows or tile drains; only protects waters that have historically been covered by the Clean Water Act; and does not require a permit for any normal farming activity that does not result in a point source discharge of pollutants into waters of the U.S.
Exhaustive analysis was completed by the EPA under the previous administration before finalizing the 2015 WOTUS rule, which showed that public health and economic sustainability can both be protected under the 2015 rule.
The 2015 rule protects streams used for drinking water by a third of the American population.
According to EPA’s data, the citizens of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho are almost entirely dependent on public drinking water systems that rely on intermittent, ephemeral, and headwater streams. The percentage of streams in these source protection areas that are classified as intermittent, ephemeral, or headwater ranges, in most Northwest counties, from 50-100%.
Not protecting these sources under the clean water act puts the health of Northwest citizens at risk. Clean water is essential to our health. One would think that the recent controversies over lead contamination in Flint and other cities would have made the EPA more careful – not less – in its oversight of drinking water sources.
EPA also previously touted the economic benefits of the Clean Water rule. Statistics cited of the economic benefits of clean water included:
- The beverage industry uses over 12 billion gallons of water annually to produce products valued at $58 billion. Beer brewers depend on clean water, which is more than 90 percent of beer. In the Northwest, this is a growing industry that should not be compromised by the repeal of the WOTUS rule.
- Fishing is a $48 billion per year industry that supports nearly a million family wage jobs. Fishing is an important industry in the Northwest. As importantly, fish comprises important healthy food for many Americans, and are treasured by Northwest tribes.
- Fishermen, hunters, and wildlife watchers spent $144.7 billion in 2011 on activities, equal to one percent of the Gross Domestic Product.
- Aquatic recreation is big business. Paddlers alone spend $86 billion annually on gear and trips.
- Agriculture depends on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation.
- EPA also noted drinking water treatment costs would be less under the new rule.
Administrator Pruitt has put forth no scientific arguments disputing the facts relied upon for the 2015 rule.
In summary, Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides urges you to reconsider this proposal to rescind the 2015 WOTUS rule. We support leaving the 2015 WOTUS rule in place.
Sharon L. Selvaggio
Program Director, Healthy Water and Wildlife
 National Farmers Union Statement on Waters of the U.S. Final Rule. May 27, 2015. Press Release. https://nfu.org/2015/05/27/national-farmers-union-statement-on-waters-of-the-u-s-final-rule/
 National Farmers Union. Waters of the U.S. Proposed Rule Myth and Facts. At http://www.nwf.org/~/media/PDFs/Affiliate-Partnership-Center/Waters-Rule/WOTUS-Facts-and-Myths.pdf
 EPA. 2009. Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided By Intermittent, Ephemeral, and Headwater Streams in the U.S. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-04/documents/wetlands_science_surface_drinking_water_surface_drinking_water_results_county.pdf
 See EPA factsheet The Clean Water Rule for: Communities at https://archive.epa.gov/epa/sites/production/files/2015-05/documents/fact_sheet_communities_final_0.pdf