My name is Michael Lewis, I am the Clean Water advocate for Environment Texas. I grew up sailing with the boy scouts in Corpus Christi. I spent summers in the Frio, fished with my kids along the coast, and still tube the San Marcos when I can. The waters of Texas have been central to who I am and are almost sacred to me. And I believe the federal Clean Water Act protects all of Texas’ waters.
Any argument for removing federal protection hinges on the notion that the state can adequately safeguard our water – to ensure all our waterways are clean. Unfortunately that’s just not the case. TCEQ’s 2022 Texas Integrated Report for Clean Water Act, the state has 1051 impaired water body segments. According to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project from this year, once again using EPA and TCEQ’s own data, 47.8% of our estuaries, bays, and harbors are impaired and 28% of our rivers and streams are impaired for any use.
This affects our drinking water. 61% of Texas’ drinking water comes from sources fed by ephemeral, intermittent, and headwater streams. The Texas Tribune reported that Texas had 3,866 water boil notices in 2021, the most in a decade. We are in a drought of record that continues to hit the state. Right now 27% of the state is under an “exceptional drought,” and about 62% is under an “extreme drought.” Major lakes in central Texas are close to half empty. In July the LCRA announced it was cutting off lake water for rice farmers. Cotton crops are failing.
Unfortunately, TCEQs track record on clean water is mixed at best. Half of Texas’ major industrial facilities have violated their wastewater permit by pumping excrement, oil, grease, or other toxins into the water. We have facilities in the state (Ineos USA’s facility in Brazoria County) that are out of compliance for a third of the time they are operating, but have never been fined. In a recent report from Environment Texas, we found Texas ranks first in facilities that exceeded pollution standards multiple times and for facilities that broke permitted limits seven times or more. It is clear that any enforcement that is happening is not enough to be a deterrent.
We cannot afford to lose our existing water sources to pollution, but that is exactly what we are allowing to happen. That is why our whole nation came together – with overwhelming transpartisan support – to pass the CWA in the first place — because the states were letting polluters off the hook.
Environment Texas strongly recommends that the state closely adhere to EPA’s proposed regulations and TCEQ strengthen and enforce its regulations. Any resolution from lawmakers to restrict the Waters of the US should be accompanied by a comprehensive proposal to strengthen state protections for our waterways, along with funding and enforcement thereof. Otherwise, lawmakers are simply guaranteeing more polluted water for millions of Texans.
Clean Air and Water Advocate, Environment Texas
Michael works to promote clean air and clean water in Texas. Michael lives in central Texas with his family and spends most of his free time hiking and gaming.