originally printed in the Morning Call July 31, 2015
Who among us was lucky enough as a child to have played with a toy
boat in a little park brook or a neighborhood creek? We'd launch our
craft and watch in wonder as the swirling currents washed it downstream.
We'd chase along, pluck the toy from the water, run back upstream and
set it adrift again.
Eventually, we might have let our boat keep
going. As it disappeared we'd think, "It is going to a big river now."
That is how our nation's waters work. They start small. And they grow.
And what goes in upstream ends up downstream.
when Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, the intent was to
implement protections for the entire system. That's how it went for
three decades, and the effects were striking. Our nation's rivers became
healthier, and the loss of important wetlands decreased dramatically.
And that's how things can go again now that the Environmental Protection
Agency and the Army Corp of Engineers have released a rule restoring
protections of many of the wetlands and headwaters streams once covered
by the Clean Water Act, but lost because of a pair of controversial
Supreme Court rulings in the 2000s. The Waters of the United States
rule, released on May 27, provides clear definitions of the waters
protected by the Clean Water Act.
systems, ponds and many ditches are specifically excluded, and the rule
reaffirms existing exemptions for normal forestry, farming and ranching
practices. This is great news for the 117 million Americans whose
drinking water supplies are sourced from headwater streams, including
some that run only intermittently or at certain times of the year.
this is also great news for hunters and anglers, whose pursuits are
inextricably tied to healthy woods and waters, and whose passions
contribute mightily to our nation's economy. In Pennsylvania alone,
recreational fishing results in annual trickle down economic impact of
more than $850 million, according to an American Sportfishing
Association analysis of data collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Growing up in Northampton County, I had the opportunity
to fish in and hunt along my home waters, the Bushkill Creek and its
tributaries. The Clean Water Act and the conservation movement that
spawned its bipartisan support in 1972 had much to do with the cleanup
and revival of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers. Sportsmen like me can
again fish for American shad in the Delaware and trout in the Lehigh
River. Today, no matter where in the country I find myself, whether it's
a large river like the Yellowstone or my home waters in the Lehigh
Valley, the quality of my fishing experience is directly linked to the
quality of the waters upstream.
More than a million Americans
provided comments to the proposed clean water rule after its proposal in
2014, and more than 80 percent of the comments supported restoring the
common sense protections to our nation's important headwaters and
wetlands. This isn't simply a matter of opinions. During the process the
EPA released a 400-page, peer-reviewed report summarizing the science
supporting the connection between America's small headwaters and its
larger rivers. While the release of this rule is encouraging, the fight
to protect our nation's waters isn't over.
Some industry groups
waged a campaign against the proposal, and they continue to try to
strike fear into landowners with false claims that the rule will affect
normal use of private property. They have even managed to convince some
members of Congress to fight the rule. Fending off that assault will
fall to conscientious elected officials such as Pennsylvania's Sen. Bob
Casey, who long has been an ally to the state's hunters and anglers and
who can make a difference by showing that this is not about politics,
but about science.
And that science is not only indisputable, it
is not complicated. Waters start small. And they grow. And what goes in
upstream ends up downstream.
Brian Wagner, who lives in Nazareth, is president of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited.
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