EPA releases Final Clean Water Rule: Clarifies protections for streams, wetlands critical for water quality

earth-newToday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) released its final Clean Water Rule, helping to provide long-needed clarity on protections for the drinking water sources for more than 117 million Americans.

“We applaud the Administration for standing up for the millions of Americans, more than one third of the population, whose drinking water quality has been at risk for pollution without this rule,” said Navis Bermudez, Deputy Legislative Director for SELC.  “Throughout a lengthy, transparent process, it is clear that the agencies have carefully considered the ample public input and scientific evidence that supports the need for a strong, final rule.”

The final rule clarifies important safeguards for smaller water sources, known as intermittent and ephemeral streams, and wetlands. While these smaller types of waters have generally received the same protections as other sources under the Clean Water Act, 60 percent of the nation’s stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands have been left without guaranteed protection for years.

Evident from maps depicting SELC’s six state region, these smaller water bodies feed into and supply larger streams which are home to many drinking water intakes. EPA produced a scientific report earlier this year which confirms there is strong scientific evidence to support the fact that streams and many wetlands are connected to downstream waters in a significant way.

“Informed by clear science, the final rule includes critical protections for the streams and wetlands that purify our drinking water, buffer our communities from storms and floods, and filter out polluted runoff,” said Bill Sapp, Senior Attorney for SELC. “The rule recognizes that clean water is only guaranteed when critical wetland systems, such as Carolina bays, are protected based on the connections they share with streams and rivers.”

The final rule improves clarity about what waters are and are not included by defining tributaries more clearly, providing certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters and will make implementation and enforcement of the law far more efficient. The rule also maintains existing exemptions, including those for agriculture and forestry.

More than 800,000 comments were submitted from small businesses, states, local elected officials, sportsmen groups, health organizations and conservation groups in support of the proposed rule in 2014.

SELC submitted comments on behalf of over 40 environmental and conservation groups making the case that depressional wetlands, such as crater-like Carolina bays found on the Southeastern coastal plain, should be covered under the final rule as a category of waters of the United States.

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