In a double-edge sword, the nation is facing a reawakening crisis regarding protection of and the access to clean water.
Along one knife edge is how the Trump Administration and Congress are using their power to try and get the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to retreat on the matter of defining just which headwater streams and just which wetlands fall under purview of the national Clean Water Act.
This activity, says clean water advocates, is “... creating an uncertain future for the fish and wildlife habitat that sportsmen and women care about.”
Coupled to that environmental railcar is the news that not a single known drinking water supply operation anywhere is completely free of polluting chemicals.
That is, at least, the charge being brought by the Environmental Working Group, a left-of-center environmental organization that appears to have done its homework on the safety of drinking water in Ohio and elsewhere across the nation.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is attempting to engage sportsmen and sportswomen to become active and involved in what the organization perceives as a Congressional -Trump Administration plan to rollback certain provisions of the 2015 Clean Water Act’s rules.
These provisions apply to the legal definition of what constitutes headwater streams and wetlands. Fully 60-percent of U.S. stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands are at risk with the anticipated redefinitions, says the Partnership.
At stake, says the Partnership also, is how these small arterial creeks help “feed into our world-class trout waters” while many of the now politically at-risk wetlands “make up a majority of America’s duck factory.”
“If the president intends to fulfill his stated goal of having the cleanest water, he should direct his administration to identify paths forward for defending and implementing the Clean Water Rule based on sound science, regulatory certainty, and the national economic benefits of clean water,” says Whit Fosburgh, the Partnership’s president and CEO.
“Instead, the president’s action to rescind the rule puts at risk the fish and wildlife that rely on these resources.”
Fosburgh goes on to say that the “uncertainty about the tools we have to protect these places” puts at risk the hunting and fishing access and opportunities, “which could stem the flow of more than $200 billion annually into rural communities and American businesses.”
Further, says Fosburgh, the federal government under a joint U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers project spent the previous four years reviewing available data and working with a multitude of stakeholders to finalize the rules.
“Sportsmen, conservation groups, and many others submitted one million public comments to help shape the end product,” Fosburgh says as well.
Seconding Fosburgh’s statements is the head of the Izaak Walton League of America, Scott Kovarovics.
Kovarovics champions the belief that The Clean Water Rule is “critically important to improving and protecting water quality nationwide,” says Kovarovics.
“The Act is based on extensive science but also on common sense, which tells us that it is impossible to improve water quality in our rivers and lakes unless the small streams flowing to them are also protected from pollution.”
And clean water whenever it is found is crucial to human health, especially since what people drink on a daily basis appears threatened by pollution – in spite of the fact that it is more often than not treated by either municipal or privately run water treatment systems, says the Environmental Working Group.
The Working Group contends that Americans “deserve the fullest picture possible of what’s in their tap water.”
“But they won’t get that information from the government or, in many cases, from their utilities,” charges the group’s president Ken Cook.
To that end the Group has devised an on-line portal that has analyzed and compiled government and other sources of information regarding some 82 known chemical pollutants from some 50,000 public water-supply systems nationwide that impacts 5.6 million people.
And though the “vast majority of utilities are in compliance with federal regulations,” their water still often contains contaminants in concentrations exceeding the levels that scientists say pose health risks, Cook says.
“Many of the existing legal limits are set far above levels that are truly health protective,” Cook argues in support of the Group’s findings, which took two years to compile.
And because the U.S. EPA has not added a new chemical to the list of regulated contaminants in 20 years, more than half of the contaminants detected in U.S. tap water had no regulatory limit at all Cook alleges.
“That means these chemicals could legally be present at any concentration, and that utilities don’t have to test for them or tell their customers about them,” Cook charges.
In looking over the Group’s drinking water floorplan for Ohio, for example, the Akron Public City Water Supply – which serves some 280,000 subscribers – has no fewer than eight known contaminants that exceed human health guidelines in its water plus 10 more other detected contaminants.
Toledo’s water supply system has also eight known contaminants that rise above human health guidelines plus another 14 other detected contaminants. The city’s water supply system serves 360,000 subscribers.
Meanwhile, the city of Columbus’ water supply system – which serves 1.16 million subscribers - has seven known chemical contaminants that exceed human health standards along with 15 other contaminants.
Even much smaller water supply systems do not escape the Group’s review, though generally these water-supply entities fare a little better than their much larger counterparts.
The Wapakoneta City Water Supply serves 10,867 subscribers but its water still contains nine known chemical contaminants that exceed human health standards along with five other contaminants.
It would appear that the best of the bunch is the Little Hocking Water/Sewer Association which has only one known contaminant that exceeds human health standards plus nine other known contaminants. This entity services 12,522 subscribers.
By Jeffrey L. Frischkorn