Proposed changes to the Clean Water Act pose danger, necessitate immediate student action

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CAROLINE WREN MARTIN / THE FLAT HAT

The Clean Water Act has been the gold standard for water quality and pollution standards for our nation’s waters since 1972. These protections apply to navigable waters, which include lakes, rivers, oceans, streams, tributaries and wetlands. Of the streams and tributaries, there are three types: perennial, which flow year-round; intermittent, which flow seasonally and ephemeral, which flow in response to large precipitation events. Additionally, there are two types of wetlands: adjacent, which sit next to main waterways, and non-adjacent, which are instead isolated inland. Current changes being proposed to the CWA would change the definition of navigable waters to exclude ephemeral and intermittent streams as well as  non-adjacent wetlands.

This proposed rule would be devastating for endangered and threatened aquatic species. Removing them from CWA protection would damage the larger watershed, as downstream ecosystems are negatively affected by upstream pollution. Sediment pollution is one of the biggest dangers to fish and, by extension, our tourism economy and recreation. High levels of suspended sediment loads can affect a fish’s ability to hunt for prey and navigate waters, making them susceptible to predators. Over 60 percent of streams in the United States would no longer qualify for protections under the CWA, which would threaten sensitive aquatic ecosystems.

These navigable waters are also found within the boundaries of national parks. The National Park Service oversees thousands of miles of waterways and coasts throughout the country — from trout streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to wetlands in the Everglades National Park. The quality of the water inside parks is linked to the quality of water outside of park boundaries. Not only are wetlands carbon sinks, but they retain toxins to prevent adverse effects to ecosystem health. Any pollution in these ephemeral and intermittent streams can flow into larger bodies of water, posing the same threats to downstream ecosystems.  Removing waters from the protections provided by the CWA would negatively impact water quality in parks across the country, hinder the ability of park ecosystems to be resilient in the face of more regular severe storm events, diminish flood control and eliminate vital habitats for wildlife. Please join us and make your voice heard during the public comment period, which is open until April 15. The Student Environmental Action Coalition will be tabling on the Sadler Terrace on Tuesday, April 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Wednesday, April 10 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. to talk about these proposed changes and support submitting comment letters.

Email Hope Duke at

hjduke@email.wm.edu.