DENVER, CO – 68 percent of the Colorado’s streams, including those feeding The Colorado and Arkansas Rivers, will gain federal protections under a final rule signed today by top Obama administration officials. The measure restores Clean Water Act safeguards to small streams and headwaters that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly ten years.
“The rivers across the state that we fish, swim and raft on can only be clean if the streams that flow into it are protected,” said Kim Stevens, State Director with Environment Colorado. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”
By closing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, today’s rule returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed the drinking water sources for 3.7 million Coloradans” and one in three Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, will also again be shielded under federal law.
“We are excited to have finalized the Clean Water Rule after spending many months hearing a wide variety of perspectives,” said Shaun McGrath, EPA Regional Administrator. “The science shows that every lake and every river depends on the streams and wetlands that feed it—and we can’t have healthy communities downstream without healthy headwaters upstream. We know this well in the Rocky Mountain region. We greatly appreciate all the support and input we received in developing this rule.”
The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by The New York Times.
First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies. Mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers from all across the state, including New Belgium and the Aspen Brewing Company, have signaled their support. Coloradans joined Americans across the country to submit 800,000 comments in favor of the rule last fall.
“After years of rolling the dice on our most precious natural resource, I strongly applaud the administration for restoring common-sense protections to clean water. Clean water is paramount to our health, our landscapes and habitat, and our recreation-based economies,” said Tim Mauck, Clear Creek County Commissioner.
Environment Colorado, among those pushing for restored stream protections for the better part of the last decade, has gathered over 10,000 comments from Coloradans and held more than 50,000 face-to-face conversations about the need to close the loophole in the Clean Water Act in the last year alone.
“As the owner of a whitewater rafting company, clean water is clearly an essential element of our business. More importantly though, clean water is essential for the health of everything living. Colorado needs to set the standard for clean water for the United States. It’s for our children and for all of those that follow.” – Geoff Olsen ,co-owner Blue Sky Adventures, Inc., Glenwood springs Colorado.
Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as two weeks ago.
While today’s action signaled the final chapter in the decade-long fight for small streams and headwaters, advocates warned today that U.S. Senate leaders were more determined than ever to use their authority derail the Clean Water Rule. Last Tuesday, a key subcommittee adopted a measure by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to thwart the rule. This summer, the Senate is likely to use the Congressional Review Act block the clean water protections, setting up a veto fight with the president.
“Sen. Bennet has sided with our rivers over the polluters before, and we need him to do so again,” said Stevens. “Today the administration signed and sealed critical protections for our rivers and streams, but they simply won’t get delivered without Sen. Bennet.”
Environment Colorado is statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.Environmentcolorado.org
“As a mother and Mayor of a town who prides itself on sustainability and healthy living, clean water is paramount. Not only is it imperative that secondary waterways such as the Coal Creek be protected now, but also for new generations of citizens to access safely and enjoy. Clean water is critical to the future of my community,” said Christine Berg – Mayor of lafayette, CO.
“Clean water is one of the most vital ingredients of our health, our beer and our lives as a whole. At the Aspen Brewing Company, we understand and honor the necessity of keeping our waterways clean as well as restoring waterways nationwide so that the craft beer industry may continue to flourish.” – Willis Brown, Marketing Director, Aspen Brewing Company
“Here at the headwaters of the San Miguel River at 13,000 feet, we are acutely aware of the importance of protecting our water sources, not just for our own communities, who depend so heavily on it, but for all the Americans downstream of mountain rivers, who rely on clean water every day. As a County Commissioner there is only so much I can do to insure the health of our river. This clean water rule gives meaningful protection that will make a real difference to all Americans.” – Joan May – County Commissioner, San Miguel County