AUSTIN – 75% of Texas’ streams, including those feeding the Colorado River, Trinity River, and Galveston Bay, will gain federal protections under a final rule signed today by top Obama administration officials. The measure restores Clean Water Act safeguards to small streams and headwaters that have been vulnerable to development and pollution for nearly ten years.
"The water we swim, fish, and boat in, and drink from is only as clean as the streams that flow into it,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “That’s why today’s action is the biggest victory for clean water in a decade.”
"Two out of every five Texans rely on streams and wetlands to feed the sources of their drinking water,” said David Foster, Clean Water Action’s Texas Director. “And communities across Texas count on these waters to power their economies and support jobs, protect their neighborhoods from flooding, filter pollutants, and recharge groundwater supplies. That is why the Clean Water Rule is so important.
By closing a loophole created by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, today’s rule returns Clean Water Act protections to streams that feed the drinking water sources for 11.5 million Texans and one in three Americans. Millions of acres of wetlands, vital for flood control and filtering pollutants, will also again be shielded under federal law.
The court rulings had put small streams, headwaters and certain wetlands in a perilous legal limbo, allowing polluters and developers to dump into them or destroy them in many cases without a permit. In a four-year period following the decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop more than 1500 cases against polluters, according to one analysis by the New York Times.
First proposed in March 2014, the joint rule by EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is backed by robust scientific review and has gained broad support across a wide range of constituencies. Mayors, brewers, kayakers, anglers, small businesses, and farmers joined a throng of citizens to submit more than 800,000 comments in favor of the rule last fall.
"Our customers expect quality, and that means raising our bison naturally, where they eat native grasses and drink clean water," said Hugh Fitzsimons, a south Texas rancher and owner of Thunder Heart Bison and the 13,000 acre Shape Ranch. "As a rancher who depends on clean water, I strongly support President Obama and the EPA's actions to protect Texas streams and wetlands."
The groups noted that protecting wetlands is essential to safeguarding our communities from flooding. As we have seen recently, the right storm system can wreak havoc through flash floods as the ground becomes too saturated. Healthy wetlands can mitigate flooding by capturing millions of gallons of flood water. Once-dry headwater streams can convey pollution to drinking water supplies with heavy rains if they are not protected, as this rule will do.
Environment Texas and Clean Water Action, among those pushing for restored stream protections for the better part of the last decade, have gathered 34,352 comments from Texans and held tens of thousands of face-to-face conversations about the need to close the loophole in the Clean Water Act in the past few years.
Despite broad public support for restored clean water protections, oil and gas companies, developers, and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign against them. The U.S. House has passed multiple bills to block or severely weaken the rule, including one measure as recently as last week.
While today’s action signaled the final chapter in the decade-long fight for small streams and headwaters, advocates warned today that Congressional leaders were more determined than ever to use their authority derail the Clean Water Rule. On Tuesday, a key subcommittee adopted a measure by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) to thwart the rule, and the full Senate could take it up soon after the Memorial Day recess.
Environment Texas and Clean Water Action applauded Representatives Al Green, Sheila Jackson Lee, Beto O’Rourke, Lloyd Doggett, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Joaquin Castro for being, according to Metzger, “steady champions for our rivers and streams, standing up to the polluters every chance they get. Now we need them more than ever to see these clean water protections are signed, sealed and delivered.”
Environment Texas is statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentTexas.org
Clean Water Action is a national citizens' organization working for clean, safe, and affordable water, and prevention of health-threatening pollution. www.CleanWater.org