Uncertain times for uncertain waters

New Trump rule increases risk for the West’s depleted water supply

Kristine Oblock

Former Clean Water Network, Coordinator, Environment America

As any Coloradan will tell you, water is a precious commodity. I know this down to my bones because I grew up in the state’s arid climate as a fourth-generation native of a farming family. My grandmother’s whole existence depended on her family’s Keenesberg, Colo., farm getting enough seasonal precipitation to sustain its yield of wheat and sugar beets. Some years it didn’t. As a child, whenever I muttered a complaint about a rained out softball game, my grandmother was quick to remind me that “it’s good for the farmers.” Dependable water flow in this environment is anything but certain.

As an adult, this truth has only been reinforced. I’m an avid outdoor enthusiast, and I experience the arid takeover every summer. Anyone who’s spent time in the Colorado Rockies in more than one season can testify to the dramatic shift from a glut of precipitation in the winter to summer scarcity. Many of our streams that flow forcefully in March will be a dried up trickle by September. By the end of summer, we all hold our breath wondering whether there will be enough water to sustain the family garden to harvest. We face uncertain waters. Now, imagine if those precious waters weren’t protected. What if polluters could dump in our streams and there was nothing the federal government could do to stop them?? Tragically, this is exactly what could happen now.

Last week, the Trump administration finalized its “Dirty Water Rule,” which revokes federal protection for thousands of waterways across the country, including valuable streams and wetlands in Colorado. 

As heartbreaking as that announcement is for me in Colorado, this is a national problem. From Puget Sound to the Chesapeake Bay, streams and wetlands are crucial to the health of the nation’s most iconic waterways. Wetlands filter out pollutants, provide wildlife habitat and protect communities by absorbing floodwaters. If streams are polluted, that contamination can flow into larger rivers and damage our drinking water. 

That’s why Environment America worked for more than a decade to secure protections for our wetlands and streams. We used every resource at our disposal to educate the public – from research to media to old-fashioned shoe leather. We organized support from business owners, local officials, scientists, hunters and anglers, and others.  And when EPA proposed restoring Clean Water Act protections to more than half our streams and thousands of wetlands in 2014, Environment America gathered one-quarter of the 800,000 public comments to EPA in support of the measure.

Those efforts paid off.  In 2015, the Obama administration finalized the Clean Water Rule, restoring protections to streams that help provide drinking water to 117 million Americans. 

The current administration has not only repealed this Clean Water Rule but also replaced it with a dirty one. The new Dirty Water Rule leaves half our nation’s wetlands without federal protection — a move that was recently rebuked by the EPA’s own science advisors. The rule also strips protections from thousands of streams across the country that do not run year-round. This is deeply dangerous because those cricks and creeks play a key role in providing drinking water to millions of Americans. 

Those are also the very streams my family has depended on for generations. 

With that in mind, I’m so proud that Environment America is doing everything we can to stop the Dirty Water Rule.  We have joined several other organizations in a lawsuit.  And we are building public support for a new bill in Congress that would stop this reckless rollback in its tracks.

The streams and watersheds that hang in the balance are essential for our health, our way of life and nature itself. And, as every Coloradan knows, even in the best of times water is uncertain. To assure we make the most of what we have, we must end these uncertain times for this precious resource. 


Kristine Oblock

Former Clean Water Network, Coordinator, Environment America