Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Clean Water Denied.

We know that water is life.  Maybe that is why people are so drawn to water.  Almost 75% of outdoor recreation is near streams, rivers, and lakes. But when we are in our homes, filling a glass of water from the sink, we rarely think about where that water came from or what it took to keep it clean.  We may be camping or fishing next to the “source” in a forest but then lose the connection to our taps when we are at home.  Little do we realize that one reason millions of acres of forest lands were first protected by our politicians was to “secure favorable conditions of water flows” (1897 Organic Administration Act).

75 years after the Organic Act, a bi-partisan Congress overrode President Nixon’s veto and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act) became law. The law’s objective is to protect water by preventing pollution to our waterways by targeting the sources.  The open sewers and fiery rivers may now be in the past - thanks to the Clean Water Act - but thousands of rivers and lakes are still far from being swimmable, fishable and drinkable.

Oversight and enforcement of the Clean Water Act ultimately lies with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  States, cities, businesses, industries, land managers, tribes all have accountability but ultimately EPA is responsible to protect human health and the environment.

This is why we go to EPA when we see our waters polluted.  But when it comes to dirty runoff from forest roads (stormwater), EPA simply turns away.  In 1999, when national stormwater regulations were revised, EPA ignored stormwater from forest roads that were polluting streams. Two conservation organizations, Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense Center, took them to court.  In 2003, when the Ninth Circuit Court directed EPA to look at forest roads, EPA failed to act again.  And now, 17 years later, EPA once again was directed by a Court to act. But EPA decided that water is protected enough.

Dirty water entering a forest stream.
Photo credit: Crag Law Center

Tell that to the small coastal community of Arch Cape, Oregon where sediment from forestry practices upstream continually clog up their drinking water filtration system. In a letter to the Oregon Board of Forestry, the town declared:
The current Oregon Forest Practices Act needs to be amended, in order to enable water suppliers to be able to meet this basic duty that the public entrusts them with.” (Arch Cape letter to Oregon Board of Forestry)
Yet, EPA argues in its decision notice to do nothing; that “states frequently revise their forest roads management guidance/regulations” and called out Oregon as a positive example: “Oregon Board of Forestry increased the riparian zone buffer width for fish-bearing streams in 2015 (Oregon Riparian Rule, 2015)”. Yes, the rules were revised but it was the first time since the 1990’s! That’s not “frequent”. And the rule revision did not address forest road runoff, nor did it include all forest land in the state.

Ironically, EPA’s recent decision nationally runs contradictory to it’s own agency action in Oregon. In March of this year, EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) withheld $1.2 million in grant funds because Oregon failed to control water pollution to protect fish, wildlife, and public health. For 18 years these federal agencies have said that Oregon’s poor forest practices create water pollution and harm fish, but it wasn’t until this spring that they finally took stronger action and penalized the state. In their reasoning, the two agencies specifically call out forest roads:
As a result, NOAA and EPA cannot determine, and the State [Oregon] has not made information-based representations specifying, the extent to which voluntary efforts have addressed the sedimentation problems and landslide risk posed by the legacy road network.” (NOAA/EPA Decision Rationale)
Forest to Faucets” is literal. 50-75% of the U.S. population relies on forest lands for good quality water. But when EPA keeps turning away from its responsibilities to uphold the Clean Water Act, communities are then tagged with the bill to spend millions to clean-up the dirty water. Clean water denied.

What will it take to truly value and protect clean water?

Photo credit: High Country News

1 comment:

  1. A good blog is a lot of educational issues. It's a nice blog. I think that this blog has a lot of educational issues. Thanks for blog. Beauty Tips