Madison, WI - Today, in the biggest step forward for clean water in more than a decade, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to close loopholes in the Clean Water Act that leave 53% of Wisconsin’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands at risk of unchecked pollution and development.
“With the drinking water for nearly 400,000 Wisconsinites at risk, we’re thrilled to see the EPA moving forward to protect our waterways,” said Katie Siegner, Clean Water Associate with Wisconsin Environment, which has worked for more than a decade to restore Clean Water Act protections. “Today’s action is about ensuring that all our water is safe and healthy. Whether we’re boating on Lake Mendota, fishing in our favorite stream, or just drinking the water that comes from our tap, we need Wisconsin’s waterways to be clean and protected.”
This rulemaking comes after a decade of uncertainty over the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act, following polluter-led Supreme Court challenges in 2001 and 2006. The rule, which could be finalized as soon as later this year, would restore Clean Water Act protections to roughly 1.1 million acres of Wisconsin’s wetlands and more than half Wisconsin’s streams.
“This rule would protect the streams that feed into rivers like the Mississippi and the wetlands that filter pollution from Lake Michigan, Lake Mendota, and thousands of others,” said Siegner. “If we don’t protect these critical waters, we can’t ensure that any of our waterways are fully protected.”
With so much at stake, Wisconsin Environment and its sister groups across the country have waged an intensive multi-year campaign to restore these Clean Water Act protections – including more than 1 million face-to-face conversations with people across the country, and rallying more than 400 local elected officials, 300 farmers, and 300 small business owners to call on the Obama administration to take action.
“Water is so important for all farmers – big and small. It’s critical to our way of life,” said Lynn Utesch, owner of Guardians of the Field Farm, a cattle farm in Kewanee County, Wisconsin. “Here in Wisconsin, we’ve experienced a new dead zone in Green Bay as an effect of the health of our streams and other waterways. To protect the waters we love and need like Lake Michigan, we need to make sure the Clean Water Act protects all our waterways.”
In September 2013, the EPA announced it was moving forward with the rulemaking to restore Clean Water Act protections to waterways throughout Wisconsin and across the country. It simultaneously released a draft science report on the connection between smaller streams and wetlands and downstream waters, which makes the scientific case for the rulemaking. Members of the public submitted more than 150,000 public comments in support of the report’s findings that these waterways merit protection under the law.
Many of the nation’s biggest polluters are already weighing in against the rulemaking, spreading misinformation about the rule’s potential impacts. While the EPA has announced the rule will preserve all existing Clean Water Act exemptions for the agricultural sector, the American Farm Bureau is insisting that the rulemaking is “a land grab” by the EPA and cause for “battle.” The American Farm Bureau Federation is one of 28 members of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, an industry group formed to lobby against clean water protections.
“When finalized, this rule would be the biggest step forward for clean water more than a decade,” said Siegner. “Thank you, Administrator Gina McCarthy and the EPA for fighting to protect clean water. Now let’s get the job done.”
Wisconsin Environment is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy group. For more information, visit www.WisconsinEnvironment.org.