Millions of stream miles risk losing protection

The final rule, announced today, “repeals” the 2015 Clean Water Rule, making way for the anticipated “replacement” rule, takes another step toward eliminating protection for millions of stream miles and many wetlands, a critical component to functioning watersheds. The replacement rule, is expected to be finalized later in 2019 by the agencies. 

EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers aim to cut protections for millions of stream miles across the United States 

Final “repeal” rule leaves important drinking water sources and habitat at dire risk of being unprotected from pollution, and opens the door for the expected “replacement” rule later this year which will be even worse for streams and wetlands 

Streams at risk in Arizona. See below for more maps

For immediate release 
September 12, 2019

Steve Moyer
(571) 274-0593
Vice President of Government Affairs

Shauna Stephenson 
(307) 757-7861
National Communications Director

(Sept. 12, 2019) WASHINGTON D.C. — Trout Unlimited repeated its strong opposition to the final rule being announced by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers today that will rollback of protections for millions of miles of streams that provide drinking water for one-in-three Americans and critical water and habitat for fish and wildlife populations.

The final rule, which “repeals” the 2015 Clean Water Rule, making way for the anticipated “replacement” rule, takes another step toward eliminating protection for millions of stream miles and many wetlands, a critical component to functioning watersheds. The replacement rule, is expected to be finalized later in 2019 by the agencies. 

The final rule announced today will undermine common sense regulation of a host of development activities, such as pipeline construction that will, over time, degrade hunting and fishing opportunities in every state in the country. 

“Today’s final rule, in combination with the replacement rule later in the year, could tear the soul out of the Clean Water Act’s protection of small streams and wetlands,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Headwater streams, especially ephemeral streams, are like the capillaries in our bodies – they’re small and easy to overlook, but we wouldn’t last long without them. It is a fundamentally flawed final rule.” 

Polls show Americans overwhelmingly support protections for clean water and the Clean Water Act. 

“The Agencies’ final rule turns its back on the importance of small headwater streams to healthy waterways and sportfishing recreation,” said Steve Moyer, vice president of government affairs for Trout Unlimited. “Sportsmen and women know that we all live downstream. All the benefits of our larger streams, rivers, and bays are dependent on the health of our small streams.” 

Using the Clean Water Act to protect headwater streams is especially valuable to Trout Unlimited. At a basic level, 59 percent of rivers and stream miles in the lower 48 states are intermittent or ephemeral (i.e., they are small or headwater streams that do not flow year-round). However, in the drier southwest, that figure is higher. In Arizona, 96 percent of the waters are intermittent or ephemeral streams. EPA Region 8, consisting of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas, estimates that only 17 percent of the waters in its states flow year-round.   

Headwater streams contribute to the drinking water supplies of 117 million Americans, protect communities from flooding, and provide essential fish and wildlife habitat that support a robust outdoor recreation economy worth $887 billion.  

“Clean water is not a political issue. It is a basic right of every American,” Wood said. “To be effective, the Clean Water Act must be able to control pollution at its source — upstream in the headwaters and wetlands that flow downstream through communities to our major lakes, rivers, and bays. We will work with our allies across the conservation community to compel the agencies to reverse course on their flawed rule.” 

Frequently asked questions: 

How Did We Get Here?  

When the Clean Water Act was passed in 1972, it protected virtually all of America’s waters–every type of stream, wetland, river, lake or bay. A 2001 Supreme Court decision first questioned if all wetlands and streams should in fact be protected–and the issue has become ever-more politicized since then. 

In 2015, under President Obama, the EPA finalized a rule (the Clean Water Rule) clarifying that the Clean Water Act protects all of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands. The rule gained strong support from sportsmen, scientists and the public, but it was opposed by a powerful coalition of agriculture and development interests  

What’s happening now? 

Early in 2017, President Trump directed the EPA to first repeal and then replace the Clean Water Rule. The Administration’s efforts to rescind the 2015 Rule have been partially blocked, as the 2015 Rule is in effect in 22 states. The new rule, unveiled today, is an unwarranted effort to replace the 2015 Rule. The new rule is NOT based in science and is NOT consistent with the goals of the Clean Water Act. The new rule proposal will undermine long standing protections for wetlands and small streams, it will harm hunting and fishing in America. However, it is not the final chapter to the story.

We expect the Administration and the agencies to unveil a replacement for the 2015 Rule which may well be a true gutting of the Clean Water Act, leaving millions of stream miles and millions of acres of wetlands permanently unprotected. We expect the replacement final rule later this year.

Why should sportsmen care? 

The Clean Water Act and the 2015 Rule are vital to TU’s work and to anglers across the nation. Whether TU is working with farmers to restore small headwater streams in West Virginia, removing acidic pollution caused by abandoned mines in Pennsylvania, or protecting the world-famous salmon-producing, 14,000-jobs-sustaining watershed of Bristol Bay, Alaska, we rely on the Clean Water Act to safeguard our water quality improvements. 

TU members, and sportsmen and women nationwide, want to move forward with progress on cleaning up our nation’s waters, not go backwards. Thus, the Clean Water Act needs to be improved, not weakened, as is the case in today’s announcement.