This week’s news that the EPA was suspending the Clean Water Act’s protections for headwater streams was a stark reminder that elections have consequences. The previous presidential administration worked for years to write the rule, and the new one doesn’t like it. Game over, right? No. Don’t forget an unassailable fact—elected leaders are elected. By us. If you want to stay elected, you need to listen to voters.
How else to explain the fact that the EPA chose not to lift their Clean Water Act Proposed Determination for Bristol Bay other than that the overwhelming majority of Alaskans wish to keep Bristol Bay intact and not turn it into an industrial mining district? How else to explain the fact that funding for programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay program remain strong, despite the President’s budget proposing to eliminate them? Money flows to things that people want; and people want the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake to remain healthy.
Last year was actually a good one for conservation. In California TU scientists helped negotiate a new multiple benefit Central Valley Flood Protection Plan that will protect people and help recover salmon and steelhead, too. In Montana we worked with Kinross Gold Corporation to secure a permanent donation of more than three billion gallons of water per year to the Yellowstone River—the largest private water rights donation in history. Water withdrawals from the Colorado River have threatened native fish for the past 20 years, but an innovative pilot program is helping trout and creating water markets in states such as Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, and is a hopeful precursor to those states building more conservation options into their water laws.
In the In the East and Midwest, TU reconnected 222 miles of fish habitat by fixing perched or under-sized culverts. Obviously, this is great for trout but it also helps to protect communities and infrastructure from the effects of more frequent flooding. In Maine, Trout Unlimited staff and volunteers worked with legislators to fix a law that gutted the State mining laws. After five long, hard years of educating, organizing, and mobilizing sportsmen and women, we helped to pass a new mining law for Maine that is among the most protective in the nation.
Each of these efforts share a common theme. People who love they places they live (and fish) taking action to make their voices heard so that they are protected or restored. It is an undeniable fact that the conservation that is most local is most durable. As yet, there is no constituency for acid mine drainage, erosion, dirty water or dry rivers. Our challenge is to connect the imperative of conservation to our friends, neighbors, and communities and to motivate them with the optimism to make the world—their world, and their kids, too—a better place.
When we protect, for example, the Roan Plateau in Colorado from energy development, we are also reducing downstream water filtration costs for the people of Grand Junction. When we reconnect rivers by removing obsolete dams and fixing perched culverts, we also help minimize the damage of flooding to downstream infrastructure and communities. When we restore more than 30 miles of river and 20 miles of streamside areas on the Monongahela National Forest In West Virginia not only do we make fishing better, we help provide dozens of family-wage jobs in rural communities and help improve farming practices.
Conservation is important. Even more important is the work that we do to build community by helping wounded veterans to heal and educating children about the wonders of nature. Giving back to those who served the nation and training the next generation of conservation stewards is an immensely humane act, and conservation is the ultimate act of humanity.
Closing with the Clean Water Rule; that game is most assuredly not over. The EPA will need to come up with a new rule. Rulemakings seem very far away from the places we live. But check this interactive map out. Plug in the name of some of your favorite streams to see how the Administration’s proposal could affect you, your fishing, and your drinking water. Then, get involved. Remember, our political leaders work for us.
–By Chris Wood