The EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today announced a long-awaited rule which will restore critical protections for wetlands and headwater streams that provide habitat for fish and wildlife and supply clean drinking water to one in three Americans. The announcement of the final clean water rule, which comes after more than a year of consultation with stakeholders, who generated more than one million comments, will give clarity to regulators as well as hunters and anglers, who have been unsure of the Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction following two Supreme Court decisions and administrative actions.
“This is a historic day that all sportsmen should welcome,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “Nearly 15 years after legal confusion contributed to the first accelerated loss of waterfowl habitat in decades, we finally have a rule in place that will help stem the tide of wetlands loss and definitively restore water quality protections to trout habitat and salmon spawning waters. We want to commend the administration for making this long-anticipated day a reality.”
The clean water rule will restore protections to 60 percent of America’s stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands currently at greater risk of being polluted or destroyed because of Clean Water Act confusion. Protecting the health of these waters not only preserves coldwater fisheries and waterfowl habitat, but strengthens the local economies that rely on the 6 million jobs created by our country’s $200-billion outdoor recreation industry annually.
“This rule was crafted through a very thorough process, one in which hundreds of thousands of Americans participated,” says Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “A vast majority of Americans support the rule and the protection of our country’s headwater streams, because they understand the need to protect our priceless water resources. And in a time of drought and changing climate, these resources are even more precious.”
Today’s announcement does not expand the Clean Water Act, but rather restores—and in some cases, enhances—critical protections to two major categories of waters: tributaries to waters already covered by the Clean Water Act, and the wetlands, lakes, and other waters located adjacent to, or within the floodplain of, these tributaries. In an important win for wildlife, the final rule also restores protection to some non-adjacent wetlands, which provide breeding grounds for as much as seventy percent of the nation’s duck population.
“By restoring Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands, the Army Corps and EPA are taking decisive action that benefits outdoor recreation, public health, and our economy,” says Scott Kovarovics, executive director of the Izaak Walton League of America. “This action is grounded in science and common sense, and it gives a tremendous boost to efforts nationwide to conserve essential water resources and sustain our outdoor heritage.”
“This important final rule provides clarity on protections for the lifeblood of many of our country’s prized fisheries,” says Benjamin Bulis, president of the American Fly Fishing Trade Association. “The health of these headwaters sets the tone for all waters downstream and creates the backbone of our nation’s water resources. If we as a nation fail to protect our headwater streams and wetlands, we could jeopardize the economy of the hunting and fishing industry and put millions of people out of work.”
Over 40 million Americans rely on clean water for hunting and angling. Sportsmen were among the leading advocates for passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and that support held throughout the campaign for this much needed rule clarification. In fact, more than 200 sportsmen and conservation groups signed a letter calling for action to restore protections for wetlands and headwater streams.
“The clean water rule is good for our business, which depends on clean, fishable water,” says Dave Perkins, executive vice chairman of the Orvis Company. “Improving the quality of fishing in America translates directly to our bottom line, to the numbers of employees we hire right here in America, and to the health of our brick-and-mortar stores all over the country.”
John Doerr, CEO of Pure Fishing, the world’s largest fishing tackle manufacturer, says, “Our outdoor recreation economy is totally dependent on healthy watersheds for our fishable waters, and the Clean Water Act is the number one protection we have to ensure the future of our industry.”
“My company depends on people enjoying their time recreating outside, especially in or near watersheds,” says Travis Campbell, president and CEO of Far Bank Enterprises and a board member for the Outdoor Industry Association—the group that produced this report on the outdoor recreation economy. “Clarifying which waterways are protected under the Clean Water Act isn’t a nice-to-have, it is a business imperative, with outdoor recreation contributing $80 billion in local, state, and federal taxes. In order to sustain the growth and success of the industry, not to mention the enjoyment of these opportunities for further generations, we need to ensure we are caring for the infrastructure that supports American experiences like fishing, kayaking, and canoeing.”
Despite the release of the final rule today, the protection of America’s waters remains at risk as Congress considers legislation to undermine the rule even after it’s finalized.
“The process worked as it should, with the Army Corps and the Environmental Protection Agency making numerous improvements and clarifications to the rule based on the public comments,” says Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The final rule balances the urgent need to protect our nation’s essential water resources with landowners’ desire for clarity.”
Header image courtesy of Dusan Smetana.