By Jenifer Collins, Associate Legislative Representative, Earthjustice My childhood was spent on the water. From the time I was born until I graduated from college, I lived within walking distance of a lake or river. Growing up in Florida, I spent countless hours windsurfing and swimming in the Indian River Lagoon. In college, one of my favorite pastimes was paddle boarding on Lake Virginia, which serves as the stunning blue backdrop for my alma mater’s campus. But even as I appreciated the beauty of my local waterways, I saw signs of environmental problems. In the summer, water quality advisory postings surrounded Lake Virginia, warning the public not to swim. Back home on the Indian River Lagoon, algae blooms ran rampant. Sometimes as I drove across the bridge from the mainland to the beachside, I rolled up my windows to keep out the stench. It’s not just the waterways in my home state that are affected. Some 46 percent of our country’s streams and rivers and 32 percent of wetlands are in poor condition, unfit for swimming, drinking or fishing. And those are just the ones that have been assessed by the EPA. There are many water bodies across the country that have not been formally assessed. How did we get to the point where such simple recreations as swimming and fishing have become dangerous? The current incarnation of the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, in response to widespread dumping of pollution into the nation’s waterways, making two-thirds of lakes, rivers and coastal waters unsafe for fishing or swimming. The act provided comprehensive protections for waterways large and...

Despite a Policy Victory, Another Year Without Clean Water

By Jimmy Hague, Director of the Center for Water Resources, TRCP Why aren’t we celebrating the one-year anniversary of better protections for headwater streams and wetlands? Today marks one year since the EPA and Army Corps finalized and signed the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies, after nearly 15 years of confusion, exactly what waters are—and are not—protected by the Clean Water Act. The rule has huge importance for cold-water fisheries and the majority of waterfowl habitat in the country, yet we’re still not able to move forward with implementing it. Image courtesy of Dusan Smetana. Sadly, almost before the ink was even dry on the final rule last May, the courts upended the decision and blocked the agencies from rolling out protections for these waters and wetlands. We have been forced to wait for a court decision while fish and wildlife habitat remains at risk of pollution and destruction. Meanwhile, headwater streams, which make up 60 percent of stream miles in America and support our trout fisheries and salmon spawning grounds, are in limbo. These waters feed into warm-water fisheries and drinking water sources downstream. While this widely-celebrated rule remains blocked, wetlands that provide high quality waterfowl habitat go without clear protections. And the rate of wetlands loss in the United States increased by 140 percent between 2004 and 2009, the years immediately following the Supreme Court rulings the created Clean Water Act confusion. Today, nearly half of the nation’s river and stream miles are in poor biological condition while one-third of U.S. wetlands are in poor condition. We will need a clear and effective Clean Water Act to...