Many sportsmen may not realize it, but we are on the cusp of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore protections to our most cherished hunting and fishing areas.
That is because the federal government is taking steps now that will decide which bodies of water will be protected by standards set by the Clean Water Act.
But the waters most important to sportsmen won’t benefit from this effort unless you take action and speak up now.
The Clean Water Act is undoubtedly one of our nation’s most successful and important environmental laws. In the 41 years the modern Clean Water Act has been in existence, it has transformed many of our lakes and rivers from toxic dumping grounds into vibrant fish and wildlife habitat, sources of drinking water and commercial and recreational hotspots.
However, there has long been a debate about which bodies of water Congress intended to cover with the Clean Water Act. Was it everything that is wet in America or only the largest interstate rivers? (Most reasonable people agree it’s somewhere in the middle, but where exactly do you draw the line?) A couple of Supreme Court decisions in the 2000s confused rather than clarified this debate, but the most recent decision pointed to a solution.
In a 2006 Supreme Court decision, Justice Kennedy established the significant nexus test for determining which waters should receive Clean Water Act protections. He said that waters deserve federal protection if they “either alone or in combination with similarly situated lands in the region, significantly affect the chemical, physical, and biological integrity” of the larger bodies of water that everyone agrees should be covered by the Clean Water Act. To figure out the answer to this test, however, you first have to know how wetlands, headwater streams and other small water bodies are connected chemically, physically and biologically to larger, downstream water bodies.
So the Environmental Protection Agency brought together their best scientists, and they compiled and reviewed more than 1,000 of the best peer-reviewed scientific papers on hydrologic connectivity. The draft report summarizing their results, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, will inform future decisions the federal government makes about Clean Water Act jurisdiction. An independent panel of scientists is currently reviewing the draft report, and that’s where you come in.
The EPA is taking comments related to the report from the public now. Comments received by Nov. 6 will be considered by the independent review panel when it meets in December. Once the independent review is complete and public comments are incorporated, the EPA will finalize the report and use it to decide how to apply the Clean Water Act. Those decisions will be open for public input and scrutiny starting in early 2014 and will shape Clean Water Act protections for a long time to come.
It’s critical that sportsmen make their voices heard, because hunters and anglers understand the value of these resources like no one else.