One fish, two fish, millions of fish for clean water

By Russell Bassett
Clean Water Digital Campaigner

Have you ever seen that poster of a bunch of small fish working together to eat a big fish? We’ve used that image a few times here at Environment America, but it’s perhaps never been more appropriate than it is now because the Clean Water Rule is now the law of the land in most states. That means that the streams and wetlands that feed drinking water supplies for one in three Americans are now protected.

This historic victory for our waterways and drinking water would not have been possible without all us “small fish” working together against the relentless and ruthless attacks of big polluters and their friends in Congress.

Congratulations to everyone who was a part of the triumph! Did you sign a petition, make a call, donate, organize, or do something to help make it happen? If so, than thank you! The Clean Water Rule marks the biggest victory for clean water in more than decade, and to fully appreciate its significance, let’s take a look back on how we got here.

In 2001 and 2006, two polluter-driven court decisions cast doubt on the regulating authority under the Clean Water Act to protect wetlands, streams and other tributary waterways. This effectively created loopholes in the Clean Water Act that left 20 million acres of wetlands and half our nation’s streams — which help provide drinking water to more than 117 million Americans — at risk to pollution.

For nearly a decade, Environment America and our state affiliates have fought powerful polluters and their allies in Washington to close the loopholes and protect our waters — permanently. The work we’ve done has not only built the momentum necessary to restore the Clean Water Act to its original intent; it also built a movement of farmers, business owners, health professionals, anglers, environmentalists, and others who support clean water, and together we helped foster the political will to defend the rule in Congress.

To win this fight, we had to pull out all the stops and use every tool at our disposal. We framed the narrative on our terms, kept a media spotlight on the iconic waterways at stake, recruited and mobilized a diverse and powerful coalition of allies, and rallied the grassroots to demand action. Here’s an example of what our members and supporters have made possible to see the clean water rule through to the finish line:

  • Mobilized more than one thousand business owners, local elected officials, farmers, and other influential voices to demonstrate their support for protecting clean water. 
  • Helped generate many of the more 800,000 supportive public comments submitted to EPA on the rulemaking.
  • Knocked on more than one million doors to educate Americans face-to-face about clean water and enlist their support. 
  • Produced numerous research reports making the case for stronger clean water protections. In the past year alone, our reports have documented massive toxic discharges by industrial polluters, case studies of the Clean Water Act’s successes, and the critical role of wetlands in protecting communities.
  • Generated thousands of media hits to shine a bright spotlight on the costs and risks to our waterways from unchecked pollution, and call out the polluters and their campaigns of misinformation. 
  • Hosted numerous events on waterways and at breweries around the country to highlight the importance of clean water to local citizens and businesses. 
  • Brought all of this support and media attention to decision makers in Washington, D.C., to show Congress, the EPA, and the White House that the American people want the strong action that science says is necessary to protect our waterways.

This summer we really upped our game in the key swing states of Colorado, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maine, implementing a $1.8 million campaign in these states that included:

  • Canvass outreach to a quarter of a million households.
  • Print ads in major papers listing dozens of clean water supporters.
  • 15,000 constituent phone calls to five swing senators.
  • Videos featuring the voices of key constituencies in support of clean water.
  • River rallies and/or town hall meetings to show continued strong public support.

Our summer campaign extended to a total of 19 states to bolster out legislative champs to speak out. Canvassing, farmer photo petitions, district meetings, stand up events, and more were all part of this summer’s campaign to ensure the clean water rule is the law of land … and now it is!

The fight is not over yet, as polluters are still attacking the rule in Congress and in the courts. Unfortunately, one judge has ordered an injuction against the rule, making it so that 13 states are not yet able to enjoy restored protections for our waterways. We will not rest until the rule is fully implemented in all states, but now's a time for celebration. This is the time to remember that a bunch of little fish working together can stop the big fish trying to pollute our waters.