Tuesday 23 April 2019

Last week, the scandal-ridden EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned. We, along with other environmental groups, rejoiced in his resignation – but unfortunately our work to stop rollbacks of environmental protections and to fight the take over of the EPA by the fossil fuels industry is not over. The likely new head of the EPA, Andrew Wheeler, is expected to be just as bad as Pruitt, and maybe worse given his expertise in navigating the federal legislative and regulatory spheres.

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. Here are two examples of direct assaults on our clean water and drinking water resources and how we are joining fights against these outrageous threats to your health and your communities.

Clean Water Rule

In 2015, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers passed the Clean Water Rule, resulting in better protections 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.

Despite this  -- last year, President Trump urged the EPA to repeal the 2015 Clean Water Rule. This rule would rollback the new definition, reverting us back to the less protective definitions of Waters of the United States (WOTUS). Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over one hundred other Waterkeeper organizations across the United States in signing onto Waterkeeper Alliance’s comments on these detrimental rollbacks. 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James and many other rivers would not receive protections under the Clean Water Act if the Clean Water Rule is repealed.

The proposed bad “replacement rule” to severely constrict Clean Water Act jurisdiction (superseding the 2015 Clean Water Rule) is at the Office of Management and Budget for a last review before publication, most likely sometime in August. That publication will initiate a public comment period. Follow us on social media and sign up for our email to stay up to date and to take action against this assault on our clean water resources. Also visit www.protectsouthernwater.org to get the latest updates and to take action.

Loophole to Allow Polluted Groundwater

The EPA and courts have historically interpreted the Clean Water Act does regulate pollutants that travel a short distance through groundwater, soils, or the air before reaching surface waters. Incredibly, EPA is now considering a change to this long-standing interpretation. The EPA wants to allow a company to release pollutants from a pipe a few feet short of a waterway. These pollutants would travel a short distance underground before entering the surface water and would not be regulated under the Clean Water Act. In May, Waterkeepers Chesapeake joined over 130 other Waterkeeper organizations, Waterkeeper Alliance and national groups in submitting comments on the baseless regulatory change. There is no legitimate basis for the EPA to call into question the interpretation of the Clean Water Act that a pollutant discharge which travels from a point source to surface water across hydrological connections may be subject to NPDES permitting requirements. The EPA’s Notice published in the Federal Register provides no meaningful support for a contrary conclusion.

In response to the resignation of Scott Pruitt as EPA Administrator, Waterkeepers Chesapeake released this statement:

“Scott Pruitt was unfit to lead the EPA. He demonstrated this with his disdain for protecting the environment and public health, his systematic attack on the EPA itself and any science-based regulations, and his unapologetic support of polluting industries. We are happy to see him go. We thank our nonprofit partners like the Environmental Integrity Project and the free press for their relentless pursuit of the truth about Pruitt’s unethical management of the EPA and his long list of scandals.

We will continue to oppose any cabinet or agency head, including Pruitt’s replacement, who attacks our environmental protections, poses a danger to public health, and ignores basic ethical standards in running a government agency.”

The 2017 River Report Cards Are In!

South River

South Riverkeeper’s 2017 Report Card on the South River revealed that once again some underwater grasses had vanished. In 2017, the summer beds of widgeon grass vanished. Just like they did in 2013, 2011, 2010, and several other years in the past. After seeing better, longer visits from 2014-2016, the South River Federation thought that these transient beds of underwater grass could be depended on to show up every year, same time, same place, but with an increasingly large footprint.

Is the diminishing water clarity in those areas the cause, or the effect of this disappearance? They've seen rising chlorophyll levels in those areas for three years in a row as well. Perhaps algae is the culprit? They may never know exactly why underwater grasses come and go, but they will continue administering the finest non-profit monitoring program in the State to search for answers.

ShoreRivers: Chester River, Sassafras River, Choptank River and Miles-Wye Rivers

ShoreRivers issued a series of five State of the Rivers reports: 2017 Report Cards for the Choptank, Chester, Miles, Wye, and Sassafras Rivers, as well as Eastern Bay. The River Report Cards analyze the data from their extensive water quality monitoring during 2017. Data was collected at hundreds of sites by ShoreRivers scientists, Riverkeepers, and dozens of trained volunteers. 

The Chester River 2017 report card results show water quality on the Chester River was similar to recent years. The de-oxygenated dead zone is generally limited to the deepest areas of the channel during the hottest months, but there is still have too much nutrient and sediment pollution. The Chester continues to slowly improve, but is still a river at risk. The Sassafras River 2017 Report Card highlighted that historical water quality data showed a remarkable change in salinity, the level of salt in the water. In the fall of 2016, the salinity levels rose markedly from previous years. A drought in Pennsylvania reduced the amount of fresh water entering the Bay from the Susquehanna - allowing salter Bay water to come north to the Sassafras.

The River Report Card regarding the Choptank, Miles and Wye Rivers, Eastern Bay, and their tributaries show results that are in line with those from the past two years, reflecting improved water clarity, expanding grass beds, and reduced or stable pollution concentrations for many sampling locations. The year 2017 had wet and dry months and the data correlated to these weather trends. Months with increased rainfall washed from the land pollutants such as sediments and fertilizers into the rivers, an important indicator that river pollution comes from the surrounding land. As in years past, ShoreRivers has been heavily involved in installing pollution-reducing practices across the watersheds that are contributing to improved river health.

James River

The State of the James provides an interactive report card on the ongoing effort to bring the James River back to full health. This comprehensive assessment of the health of the river is published every two years. In 2017, the James River had an overall grade of B minus, which is an increase of 10 points over the past 10 years. In order to stay on track, Virginia needs to invest more in urban stormwater and agricultural pollution controls. James Riverkeepers also has an interactive map on current water quality at http://jamesriverwatch.org.

In addition to River Report Cards, several of our Waterkeepers report water quality through other means. These Waterkeepers post water quality data on the Swim Guide:

  • Assateague Coastkeeper
  • West Rhode Riverkeeper
  • South Riverkeeper
  • James Riverkeeper
  • Anacostia Riverkeeper
  • ShoreRivers
  • Shenandoah Riverkeeper
  • Potomac Riverkeeper (coming soon!)

Blue Water Baltimore measures and maps water quality on the Patapsco and its tributaries on its interactive Baltimore Harber Water Alert map. The South River Federation rolled out an interactive data map this year. It takes a look at whether the river is fishable and swimmable and includes historical data. The data map also provides photos and information about where restoration projects are located. View the data map at www.southriverdata.net. James Riverkeepers also has an interactive map on current water quality at http://jamesriverwatch.org.