On this 45th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we reflect on how our local Waterkeeper programs are needed more than ever to safeguard our clean water resources.
Over the past few years, Waterkeepers Chesapeake has successfully brought together 19 local Waterkeepers programs to collaboratively advocate for and bring legal action to protect communities and waterways throughout the Chesapeake Bay and Coastal Bay regions.
Waterkeepers Chesapeake has focused on unifying Waterkeeper efforts behind important clean water priorities, like the passage of the fracking ban in Maryland and the passage of protective coal ash laws in Virginia. Waterkeepers Chesapeake also works on issues at the federal level - coordinating efforts against EPA's rollback of clean water protections, the slashing of EPA funding, and Scott Pruitt's appointment.
Through the Fair Farms campaign, Waterkeepers Chesapeake is addressing agricultural pollution while supporting sustainable farming efforts. This year, we worked to pass a second-in-the-country law to restrict the routine use of human antibiotics in livestock.
At the core of our work we empower people to stop pollution and encourage better local water quality through tools and legal rights under the Clean Water Act. Waterkeeper programs were founded to engage and organize citizens to protect their right to clean water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to promulgate and enforce laws and regulations to protect human health and the environment. Sadly, under this administration, the EPA has been fully captured by the fossil fuels industry and industrial polluters. To date, the EPA has rolled back or repealed the Clean Water Rule, the Clean Power Plan, and effluent limits on the discharge of toxic coal wastewater.
Now, our Waterkeepers are the last line of defense for citizens to protect their clean water. Some examples of how our Waterkeepers are encouraging public participation in protecting our waters include:
- For the past several years, the Potomac Riverkeeper Network (PRKN) has conducted compliance sweeps of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits issued under the Clean Water Act to assess violations before a major incident occurs. In a recent sweep, Upper Potomac Riverkeeper found that 38 out of 291 facilities had severe violations. PRKN’s first step is to communicate pollution concerns with the facility, and to offer assistance in mitigating the problem. If there is no cooperation or development of a remedy, then they notify the State. If the State does nothing to remedy the problem, then they escalate to legal action on behalf of the impacted citizens.
- Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy (MRC) and Chesapeake Legal Alliance (CLA), produced the Citizen Guide – Public Participation in Maryland’s NPDES Permitting Program. The Guide was produced for the purpose of improving the vital component of citizen involvement in environmental decision-making in Maryland. The Guide is used as an outreach tool to engage organizations and citizens to get involved with the many key avenues for public participation in protecting our waters. It is critical that those impacted by permit violations be engaged in the early stages.
- The Lower James and Upper James Riverkeepers have created an advocacy tool called Our River at Risk to educate and rally citizens around toxic pollution threats like coal ash. They use maps, online petitions and email updates to elevate the public’s voice and participation in regulatory and permitting processes.
- The South Riverkeeper published a report on a county’s enforcement of its environmental code to show the county that it needs to step up resources for clean water enforcement. The report clearly showed that current penalties are not effective deterrents for environmental carelessness.
These are just a few examples of how our Waterkeepers bring the Clean Water Act to life on the local level and empower citizens to participate in the protection of their right to clean water. In an era when the EPA administrator only meets with corporate polluters and ignores the public, an engaged and active citizenry on the local level is more important than ever.
What You Can Do
- Visit our website to get involved and support your local Waterkeeper program
- Support Waterkeepers Chesapeake
- Use our Water Reporter app to report pollution to your local Waterkeeper
- Take Action! Tell your federal representatives to resist any rollbacks or repeals of clean water protections, to stop any reductions in funding of the EPA, and to protect citizens’ right to sue when government fails to enforce the law.