“The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.” -Lynn Noel 

Don’t turn back the clock

From the Great Lakes to the Colorado River, from Puget Sound to the Chesapeake Bay, America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waters are where we go to swim, fish, canoe, kayak or just enjoy the scenery. They supply us with clean drinking water.

However, far too often we’re reminded of the bad old days, when polluters used many of America’s waters as their own private sewers:

In January 2014, a 10,000-gallon chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River left 300,000 people without water. They couldn’t drink it, bathe in it, shower with it, cook with it, or even wash the dishes with it.

A month later, a Duke Energy pipeline collapsed, spreading more than 39,000 tons of coal ash along 70 miles of North Carolina’s Dan River.

Just six months later, in August 2014, a toxic algae bloom left 400,000 people in and around Toledo, Ohio, without drinking water. The algae contained cyanotoxin—a substance so potent that the military considered “weaponizing” it. Toledo faced problems again last year, when the algae bloom hit again

We’ve worked hard to protect our waters and we’re doing all we can now to keep polluters from turning back the clock to the days when Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught on fire. 

Even greater jeopardy

Unfortunately, polluting industries have put our waters in even greater jeopardy. They’ve been pushing to weaken the Clean Water Act ever since it first passed more than 40 years ago. After spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawyers, they carved loopholes in the law that left more than half of America’s streams open to pollution.

The loopholes put nearly 2 million miles of our streams at risk, threatening the drinking water of 117 million Americans. They also put at risk 20 million acres of wetlands, an area the size of South Carolina and home to millions of birds and fish. 

As a result of these loopholes, hundreds of polluters were able to escape penalties. 

For example, as Pro Publica reported, “in 2007, when an oil company discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Titus County, Tex., the EPA did not issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require cleanup.

“Similarly, after a farming operation dumped manure into tributaries that fed Lake Blackshear in Georgia, the EPA did not seek to hold the polluting company responsible—despite the fact that tests showed unsafe levels of bacteria and viruses in the lake, which was regularly used for waterskiing and other recreation. 

In a single 18-month period, Clean Water Act loopholes undermined 500 EPA water pollution cases.

Fortunately, the EPA agreed to act, proposing a new rule that would close the loopholes so the agency could enforce the law and stop the polluters.

"Legal warfare"

However, polluting industries lobbied furiously to stop us. 

Our adversaries included big oil and gas companies, which have thousands of miles of pipelines running through wetlands. They threatened legal warfare against the plan to restore protections to these wetlands. 

Coal companies, which have a history of dumping the wastes from their mining into mountain streams, and stood to benefit if the Clean Water Act failed to protect these streams.

Powerful developers who want to pave over wetlands without restrictions. A Michigan developer named Rapanos filed one of the court cases that created the loopholes. 

Huge factory farms who generate millions of pounds of animal manure each year, some of which runs off into our water. These big agribusinesses and their congressional allies unleashed a smear campaign, designed to scare ordinary farmers into believing the EPA was out to grab their land and even “regulate puddles.” The smears were, of course, completely untrue. 

Winning the biggest step forward for clean water in a decade 

You gave us the resources to advocate in Congress, recruit and mobilize a diverse and powerful coalition, and rally the grassroots to demand action. 

  • Together with our allies, we gathered more than 800,000 comments and held more than half a million face-to-face conversations about the need to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act.
  • With the influential voices of more than 1,000 farmers, business owners and local elected officials behind us, our visibility events and media outreach efforts countered Big Ag’s smear campaign against the rule.
  • With the rule under threat, our national team held meetings with more than 50 congressional offices, urging them to champion the voice of the public and stand up for clean water. 
In 2015, our efforts paid off when President Obama finalized the Clean Water Rule, restoring federal protections to more than half the nation’s streams, which feed drinking water sources for one in three Americans.

 

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy (sitting, right) and U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo Ellen Darcy (sitting, left) signed the Clean Water for America rule on May 27, 2015, with Margie Alt, Environment America executive director (second from left). 

The fight for clean water continues

In October 2015, a federal appeals court blocked full enforcement of the Clean Water Act in all 50 statesputting on hold the new protections we just won for thousands of waterways and wetlands across the country. 

We’ve put together a legal strategy to defend the Clean Water Rule, and given its strong legal and scientific basis, the courts should ultimately reject all efforts to weaken it. 

As polluters and their allies continue trying to derail this progress, your continued support helps keep the debate focused on what this issue is really about: Clean water for our families.

Clean Water Updates

Report | Environment America Research and Policy Center

Summer Fun Index

Clean water is at the heart of summertime fun for millions of Americans. We swim at a favorite beach, fish in a nearby creek, sail or kayak on the bay, or simply hike along a beautiful lake or stream. As the summer draws to a close, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s second annual Summer Fun Index provides a numerical snapshot of people engaging in water activities.

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One fish, two fish, millions of fish for clean water | Russell Bassett

As of Aug. 28, the Clean Water Rule is now the law of the land in most states. That means that the streams and wetlands that feed drinking water supplies for one in three Americans are now protected! This historic victory for our waterways and drinking water would not have been possible without all us “small fish” working together against the relentless and ruthless attacks of big polluters and their friends in Congress.

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News Release | Environment America

Clean Water Rule goes into effect today, protecting wetlands & streams

Washington, DC – Developers can no longer pave over wetlands and oil companies can no longer dump into streams unheeded, thanks to the Obama administration’s Clean Water Rule that goes into effect in all but 13 states today.

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Paddling against the wind | Russell Bassett

For Margo Pellegrino — who recently completed a 1,700 mile journey from New York to Chicago in an outrigger canoe — advocating for clean water can be like “paddling against the wind on a windy day.” Now that she’s back home in Medford Lakes, N.J., she’s not slowed down any in her quest to protect our waterways and ensure clean water for all Americans. 

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Clean water not green water | Russell Bassett

Last year at this time, the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie caused nearly half a million people in and around Toledo, Ohio, to be without safe drinking water. Clean water from our taps is something that many of us take for granted, but if we don’t protect our water sources — like the residents of Toledo discovered — we won’t be able to take it for granted anymore.

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