Clear water, clear rules

By Dennis McLerran

For the Capital Press

Under the proposed Clean Water Act rule, identification and protection of these waters will be more consistent for government and businesses alike.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently proposed a draft rule that would make protecting our precious water resources more clear and consistent. It would also make it easier for farmers and businesses to understand if they need permits before filling wetlands or altering streams. This long-awaited rule will be good news for Western waters.

Here’s what the rule gets us: Better clarity about what’s protected and what isn’t. Under our proposed rule, identification and protection of these waters will be more consistent for government and businesses alike.

For example, the proposed rule would keep intact all of the existing Clean Water Act exemptions for agricultural activities that farmers count on. Along with the proposal, we worked with USDA to expand agricultural exemptions, including more than 50 conservation practices that will benefit both land and water resources.

It’s a little known fact, but drinking water for about 30 percent of Northwest residents comes from high mountain, “headwater” streams, many of which are dry for part of the year. These waters are critical here in the Northwest, where some 143,000 miles of intermittent and ephemeral streams represent nearly half of all the stream miles in the region. We can’t afford to have the protected status of these waters compromised by confusion.

Water is the lifeblood of this region. Whether we’re talking about Lake Coeur d’Alene, the Columbia River, the Bristol Bay Watershed or Puget Sound, each of these gems has deep historical, spiritual or economic importance to all of us. That’s precisely why this rule is so important for agriculture, there’s so much at stake.

Our waters do more than nourish people and sustain fish and wildlife — they are the very backbone of our economy. Northwest farmers and ranchers need clean water to grow the fiber, food and fuel that we all run on. The wetlands and headwater streams this proposed rule would protect are the same that provide cool, clean water for irrigation and stock water during the long summer months. With the hotter and drier effects of climate change already scorching areas of the West, every drop of water becomes critically important.

To get this rule “right,” we need everyone to be part of the conversation. We’re holding discussions right now across the country and gathering advice to help shape the final rule. We need to hear your voice in order to arrive at a rule that both protects our waters and makes sense. If you’d like to learn more about how the rule really reads and how it will work, don’t hesitate to give your local EPA office a call and someone will work with you.

We’re proud of the progress we’ve made to protect water quality and water resources over the last 40 years. This proposed rule will help us get closer to what we’re all after: Clean, healthy wetlands and cool headwaters so future generations can enjoy the same places, the same opportunities, we treasure today.

Dennis McLerran is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional administrator for the Pacific Northwest and Alaska in Seattle. To learn more about the Clean Water Act, our proposed rule and how you can comment on it, visit: www.epa.gov/uswaters



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