“The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are.” -Lynn Noel 

Don’t turn back the clock

From the Great Lakes to the Colorado River, from Puget Sound to the Chesapeake Bay, America’s rivers, streams, lakes and other waters are where we go to swim, fish, canoe, kayak or just enjoy the scenery. They supply us with clean drinking water.

In the last year alone, however, three cases reminded us of the bad old days, when polluters used many of America’s waters as their own private sewers:

In January, a 10,000-gallon chemical spill into West Virginia’s Elk River left 300,000 people without water. They couldn’t drink it, bathe in it, shower with it, cook with it, or even wash the dishes with it.

After a Duke Energy pipeline collapsed in February, more than 39,000 tons of coal ash spread 70 miles down North Carolina’s Dan River.

In August, a toxic algae bloom left 400,000 people in and around Toledo, Ohio, without drinking water. The algae contained cyanotoxina substance so potent that the military considered “weaponizing” it.

We’ve worked hard to protect our waters and we’re doing all we can now to keep polluters from turning back the clock to the days when Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught on fire. 

Even greater jeopardy

Unfortunately, polluting industries have put our waters in even greater jeopardy. They’ve been pushing to weaken the Clean Water Act ever since it first passed more than 40 years ago. After spending millions of dollars on lobbyists and lawyers, they’ve carved loopholes in the law that leave more than half of America’s streams open to pollution.

That’s nearly 2 million miles of our streams at risk, threatening the drinking water of 117 million Americans. They also put at risk 20 million acres of wetlands, an area the size of South Carolina and home to millions of birds and fish. 

As a result of these loopholes, hundreds of polluters are escaping any penalties. 

For example, as Pro Publica reported, “in 2007, when an oil company discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into Edwards Creek in Titus County, Tex., the EPA did not issue a fine, pursue legal action or even require cleanup.

“Similarly, after a farming operation dumped manure into tributaries that fed Lake Blackshear in Georgia, the EPA did not seek to hold the polluting company responsible—despite the fact that tests showed unsafe levels of bacteria and viruses in the lake, which was regularly used for waterskiing and other recreation.”

In a single 18-month period, Clean Water Act loopholes undermined 500 EPA water pollution cases.

So Environment America took our case to the Obama administration, urging the EPA to restore Clean Water Act protection to all of our waters. We helped mobilize more than 800,000 Americans, including more than 400 mayors and other local officials, to join our call for action. 

Fortunately, the EPA agreed to act, proposing a new rule that would close the loopholes so the agency can enforce the law and stop the polluters.

"Legal warfare"

However, polluting industries are lobbying furiously to stop us.

Among our adversaries on this issue are big oil and gas companies, which have thousands of miles of pipelines running through wetlands. They’ve threatened legal warfare against the plan to restore protections to these wetlands. 

Coal companies, which are dumping the wastes from their mining into mountain streams, stand to benefit if the Clean Water Act fails to protect these streams.

Powerful developers want to pave over wetlands without restrictions. A Michigan developer named Rapanos filed one of the court cases that created the loopholes. 

Huge factory farms each year generate millions of pounds of animal manure, some of which runs off into our water. These big agribusinesses and their congressional allies unleashed a smear campaign, designed to scare ordinary farmers into believing the EPA was out to grab their land and even “regulate puddles.” The smears are, of course, completely untrue.

We choose clean water. Will the U.S. Senate?

Still, on Sept. 9 despite the ongoing threats to our water, the U.S. House voted to stop the EPA from closing the clean water loopholes -- with lawmakers repeating the polluters’ talking points. [10]

Now the polluters are pushing for a vote in the U.S. Senate to keep the EPA from ever being able to close these loopholes. 

It’s this simple: If enough senators choose clean water, we’ll win. If too many side with the polluters, we could lose.

That’s why we need your help right now. Tell your senators to choose clean water. 

Clean Water Updates

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