Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Clean Water for the Nation? Not Now, Not Nearly

On Thursday, October 15 the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee held a hearing titled “The Clean Water Act after 37 Years:  Recommitting to the Protection of the Nation’s Waters.”  The hearing focused primarily on enforcement picking up on the many of the issues raised in a New York Times Series “Toxic Waters:  A Series About the Worsening of Pollution in American Waters and Regulators Response” http://projects.nytimes.com/toxic-waters

Also on Thursday the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a new enforcement plan: http://yosemite.epa.gov/opa/admpress.nsf/0/9cd6bf52eaae15e1852576500052cd2f?OpenDocument
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/civil/cwa/cwaenfplan.html

The New York Times series together with the hearing’s live video cast and written statements by  witnesses highlight some of the current deficiencies of the Clean Water Act.  These must be addressed through state and federal action. http://transportation.house.gov/hearings/hearingdetail.aspx?NewsID=1005

If we as a nation fail to take action, then we are conceding that dirty water is acceptable in our rivers, along our coasts and through our drinking water taps.  If the status quo continues it seems likely that the rural areas of our country will bear a larger proportion of the cost on three levels:  first by losing their jobs– for example as pollution kills or contaminates shellfish and fisheries along the coasts– second by treating their own household drinking water for e-coli and other contaminants, and third by bearing the health care costs of children and adults made ill from polluted water.

A great deal of the testimony on Thursday addressed enforcement issues and strategies.  But there was also testimony on the consequences of failing to provide clean water.  While one witness talked about how municipal treatment plants were required to discharge water cleaner than the water taken out of the river, another witness described pieces of fecal matter coming out of their drinking water tap.  Several witnesses discussed the difficulty correctly interpreting the data base on enforcement while other witnesses talked about the consequences of pollution that was not or could not be enforced against because it was not protected under state or federal laws.

This was a hearing to describe and explore existing problems and not to offer solutions although at least one specific action was offered by two witnesses – clarifying the scope of the Clean Water Act.  And here is the challenge.  All of the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who made statements supported clean water.  The question is, what action are they willing to take to provide it? No action is still an action.

Also available on the New York Times Website:
Searchable Database: Find Polluters Near You: http://projects.nytimes.com/toxic-waters/polluters?ref=us
Clean Water Act Violations: The Enforcement Record: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/09/13/us/0913-water.html

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