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Another Voice: WNY waterways can't afford to lose federal protections

By Jill Jedlicka

Clean drinking water is a nonpartisan issue, which makes the attempts to significantly roll back federal waterway protection both shocking and shortsighted.

American citizens have quietly been given only 60 days to have their voices heard on the Trump administration’s Clean Water Rule proposal that is attempting to strip away 40 years of federal Clean Water Act protections across the country.

Rule-making is boring, tedious, and doesn’t capture headlines. But ignoring and being complacent about this rule change will result in significant impact to our local waters for generations to come. Citizens have until April 15 to be heard.

Not only did this rule-making process blatantly violate established administrative and environmental law, but the industry-authored recommendations that are being pushed are not based on the accepted science or ecology of the very waters the Clean Water Act is supposed to protect.

Even with decades of regulation, over half of our nation’s rivers and streams, and one third of our nation’s lakes still remain impaired. Waterways in the United States, especially in the Great Lakes and Western New York, still struggle to recover from a century’s worth of pollution and mismanagement.

This action would directly impact the Great Lakes and the Niagara River Watershed. Early analysis of the roll-back shows that more than 1,000 miles of our local waterways are at risk of losing federal protections. The new rule would also ease restrictions for development on more than 433,000 acres of our region’s remaining natural lands.

There are misleading claims that the Clean Water Act regulates puddles, tire ruts and small family ponds. There are misleading claims that only large, commercially navigable waterways are worthy of federal protection, but not our seasonal headwaters and nameless streams. And there is a misconception that New York State laws and regulations will automatically protect all of our waters from pollution.

In reality, the act has never regulated puddles, and there are no water bodies in our country where it has ever been determined that it is safe to pollute. When a waterway is contaminated, it’s essentially contagious, whether or not it’s big enough to name. And New York, like many states, does not have the updated data or laws in place to afford the protections our waters need.

It took decades and nearly $100 million to restore the Buffalo River. The new rule could strip federal protections from over 300 miles of the small streams that flow into the river’s tributaries. Upstream pollution, on a stream of any size, will infect the healing river and could undermine this investment and progress.

Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper strongly opposes this damaging rule. More citizen voices are needed. To learn more about this issue and for information on how to submit your own comment, go to our website at bnwaterkeeper.org/wotus.

Jill Jedlicka is executive director of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper.

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