The EPA announced its intent to revise ‘Waters of the United States,’ restoring protections to more than half of Montana’s waterways.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced their intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) and repeal the Trump administration’s dirty water rule that is harming our waterways, threatening drinking water supplies, and allowing corporate polluters to contaminate millions of wetlands and streams. In response, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper’s Executive Director Guy Alsentzer issued the following statement:
“We are encouraged by EPA’s decision to repeal the Trump administration’s dirty water rule. The Clean Water Act, our nation’s landmark legislation that has played a pivotal role in the cleanup and protection of thousands of waterways throughout the country, is only as strong as the definition of which waterways are protected at law.
If Montana is ever going to meaningfully address ongoing and increasing pollution degrading our lakes, rivers, and streams, the Clean Water Act needs to protect all connected waterways – including headwater streams, critical wetlands, and vernal pools. Small waterways and wetlands all feed Montana’s keynote rivers like the Big Hole, Gallatin, and Missouri, and protecting and conserving those upstream landscapes is a crucial part of science-based restoration efforts. These headwater reaches contribute critical ecological pollution filtering and buffering functions, offer cold flows and important habitat, not to mention provide numerous economic benefits.”
In Montana, studies conducted about the effects of the Trump administration’s dirty water rule estimated that 54% of our streams have no other streams flowing into them, and that 63% do not flow year-round. Under the Dirty Water Rule most of these streams lost legal protections. With Montana state law saying our agencies cannot implement rules more stringent than the federal Clean Water Act, the dirty water rule meant that as much as 50% of Montana’s waterways lost pollution protection under the Trump administration.
With pollution and climate change threatening clean water, the Biden administration should act now and fulfill the promise of the Clean Water Act by protecting the millions of miles and streams, millions of acres of wetlands, and countless other water bodies across the Nation that are currently unprotected under the dirty water rule, not to mention Montana’s largest economic drivers, agriculture and tourism, that directly depend upon clean water and healthy rivers.
Upper Missouri Waterkeeper has been the only advocacy organization in Montana fighting in federal court over three different iterations of the “WOTUS” rules since 2014, arguing for the strongest, science-based regulatory interpretation of clean water protections for headwaters. Waterkeeper urges the EPA to not only carry forward with their effort to repeal the Dirty Water Rule, but to also replace it with a strong, enduring definition that will protect all waterways. Our responsibility to leave a legacy of clean water to future generations is at stake.