Monday 23 October 2017

 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 To date, the EPA has rolled back or repealed the Clean Water Rule, the Clean Power Plan, and effluent limits on the discharge of toxic coal wastewater.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.

 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Rubberstamps Pipelines, Ignoring Strong Evidence of Significant Harm & Lack of Need

Waterkeepers Chesapeake, a coalition of nineteen independent Waterkeeper and Riverkeeper programs, condemns the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s decision to approve the Atlantic Coast (ACP) and Mountain Valley Pipelines (MVP), despite strong evidence of significant harm. The potential water quality impacts from these natural gas pipelines in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is alarming, specifically for the headwaters of the Shenandoah and James rivers. Waterkeepers Chesapeake applauds Commissioner LaFleur dissenting view that questions the need for the ACP and MVP, and recognizes the dire environmental, ecological, and public health impacts that will result from these needless projects.

The Commission’s approval seriously undermines FERC’s credibility as a supposedly objective permitting agency, given the fact that its decision was made in advance of necessary and required decisions by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the state environmental authorities in the affected states of Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina on critical environmental issues. 

Over the coming weeks and months, Waterkeepers Chesapeake will join the Shenandoah Riverkeeper, Upper James Riverkeeper, hundreds of landowners, scientists, faith leaders, businesses, public health organizations, non-profits, and other community organizations and thousands of Virginians to stop these pipelines at the federal, state, and local levels.

[The Virginia State Water Control Board will hold town meetings in December to consider the application for water quality certification for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The consideration is part of the process required under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act. The meetings are scheduled for: 9:30 a.m., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, and Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017. Location: Trinity Family Life Center, 3601 Dill Road, Richmond, VA. More info here.]

Waterkeepers Chesapeake Joins Over 115 Waterkeeper Organizations and Other Groups In Opposition to Repeal of the Clean Water Rule

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps (Corps) of Engineers passed the Clean Water Rule, resulting in a victory for a variety of streams, ponds, and wetlands that were vulnerable to pollution. Waterkeepers Chesapeake submitted comments that were supportive of the rule’s passage. The Rule was based on sound science and received broad public support.

The Clean Water Rule was part of a larger effort to clarify the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act. How WOTUS is defined is important because any waterway that meets the WOTUS definition receives Clean Water Act (CWA) protections. Under the Rule’s updated definition of WOTUS, CWA protections would extend to the drinking water sources of 117 million people across the United States – every one in three Americans.  

Despite this – earlier this year, President Trump urged the EPA to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This rule would rollback the new definition adopted in 2015, reverting us back to the less protective definitions of WOTUS that have been in place since the 1970s.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over one hundred other Waterkeeper organizations across the United States in signing onto Waterkeeper Alliance’s comments on these detrimental rollbacks. Waterkeeper Alliance took a comprehensive look at the EPA’s proposed rescinding of the rule and found that it violates requirements under the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and Executive Order 13778. Further, Waterkeeper Alliance noted that neither EPA nor the Corps provided meaningful public participation required under federal law for these types of actions. The comments went on to state:

These failures are not mere technicalities and, if unaddressed, will severely undermine or eliminate fundamental CWA protections across the country – endangering our nation’s water resources…It would be difficult to overstate the critical importance of the CWA regulatory definition of “waters of the United States,” and thus this Proposed Rule, to the protection of human health, the wellbeing of communities, the success of local, state and national economies, and the functioning of our nation’s vast, interconnected aquatic ecosystems, as well as the many threatened and endangered species that depend upon those resources. If a stream, river, lake, or wetland is not included in the definition of “waters of the United States,” untreated toxic, biological, chemical, and radiological pollution can be discharged directly into those waters without meeting any of the CWA’s permitting and treatment requirements. Excluded waterways could be dredged, filled and polluted with impunity because the CWA’s most fundamental human health and environmental safeguard – the prohibition on unauthorized discharges in 33 U.S.C. § 1311(a) – would no longer apply. Because “isolated” waterways do not exist in reality but are merely a legal fiction of recent vintage, unregulated pollution discharged into waterways that fall outside the Agencies’ definition will not only harm those receiving waters, but will often travel through well-known hydrologic processes before harming other water resources, drinking water supplies, recreational waters, fisheries, industries, agriculture, and, ultimately, human beings.

In the Chesapeake region, streams and tributaries in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna, Potomac, Shenandoah, James and many other rivers would not receive protections under the Clean Water Act if the repeal of the Clean Water Rule is upheld. The repeal will mean more pollution to the lakes and streams we rely on for drinking water supply or for fishing and swimming, and a green light for the rampant destruction of wetlands that prevent dangerous flooding.

Clean water is essential for the health and sustainability of our families, communities and environment. Lest we forget -- we all live downstream. We have a responsibility, as a nation, to control pollution at its source and protect the drinking water sources of all residents – regardless of where they live. 

Waterkeepers Chesapeake will keep you informed with any updates on this rollback as we continue to fight its implementation.

To read the full comments, click here.