The well-heeled saying that "what goes up must come down" is a fairly basic concept. So it is probably fair to say that most people would consider it a matter of common sense that the health of our streams and rivers is directly influenced by the conditions found further upstream in their headwaters, the smaller streams and creeks which feed them. Unfortunately, common sense often fails to play a role in our nation's politics and lawmaking, a reality which has driven a decade worth of degradation of Clean Water Act measures that protect sensitive headwaters resulting from multiple Supreme Court decisions and poor EPA policy making.
According to information released by Trout Unlimited yesterday, the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have released a draft proposal of rules intended to clarify Clean Water Act jurisdiction and restore protections to countless miles of headwater streams, a proposal for which Trout Unlimited has announced its support.
“[This] proposal speaks to the heart of the Clean Water Act—making rivers more fishable and swimmable,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “The waters affected by today’s proposal provide vital spawning and rearing habitat for trout and salmon. Simply stated, the proposal will make fishing better, and anglers should support it. Restoring protections to these waters ensures healthy habitat for fish and a bright future for anglers.”
Trout Unlimited also noted that the proposed rule changes do not alter the longstanding exemptions for agriculture such as irrigation ditches, farm ponds and other man-made features utilized by farmers, ranchers and foresters. Despite this fact, the proposed rule changes have already been sharply criticized by agricultural and business groups as an unnecessary expansion of Clean Water Act protections.
Information released by the EPA on Tuesday stands counter to industry groups' claims, noting that "the proposed rule clarifies protection for streams and wetlands. The proposed definitions of waters will apply to all Clean Water Act programs. It does not protect any new types of waters that have not historically been covered under the Clean Water Act and is consistent with the Supreme Court’s more narrow reading of Clean Water Act jurisdiction."
The rule changes are subject to a 90 public comment period before they can be finalized and put into place. Comments on the proposed changes will be accepted through Regulations.gov once the final version of the current draft rules are published, under docket number EPA-HQ-OW-2011-0880.