Mainers who care about water quality should contact the EPA during a public comment period.
By Nick Bennett
Portland Press Herald op-ed
AUGUSTA — Do you hunt or fish in Maine? Do you swim in Maine’s lakes or rivers? Do you drink Maine’s water? Do you own or work for a company that uses water?
If you answered “yes” to one or more of the above questions (and who among us wouldn’t?), then you have a direct personal stake in the outcome of proposed clean water rules from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The agencies’ proposal would restore Clean Water Act protections to vital streams and wetlands that benefit people and the environment in Maine and across the United States. A public comment period on the rules is now open until Oct. 20.
The relevance of these rules to your life is as close as the faucet in your kitchen. More than 400,000 people in Maine drink water provided by utilities that rely on surface water supplies. Protecting the small tributary streams and wetlands upstream from these water supplies is critical to keeping them clean, and the proposed rules will help do this.
Beyond drinking water, the small streams and wetlands across our state serve as the lifeblood of our outdoor recreation: hunting and fishing. In 2011, people spent nearly $600 million to fish and hunt in Maine. Small streams provide critical habitat for the king of all Maine sport fish: brook trout.
Maine wetlands filter pollutants that would otherwise harm the clean water that brook trout need to survive. They also supply productive habitat for waterfowl and make Maine a great place to duck hunt! Simply put, the clean water rules will be a big plus for both Maine’s environment and its economy.
Another big plus of the clean water rules: They will help minimize flooding. Wetlands act as natural water storage ponds; when they are paved over, all of their water has no place to go and is much more likely to threaten Maine towns and homes. Wetlands in Maine and across the continental United States save as much as $30 billion in annual flood damage repair costs.
Clarifying protection for small streams and wetlands, as the new rules will do, is important because of two muddled U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Although the decisions did not require broad reductions in Clean Water Act protections, this has happened in practice across the country. As a result, nearly 2 million miles of streams that don’t flow year-round and millions of acres of wetlands do not have full and clear Clean Water Act protection.
Our watersheds are all connected, and water flows downstream. It simply isn’t possible to maintain high water quality in our lakes and rivers without protecting the small streams and wetlands that feed into them.
All of this is why you should care about the new clean water rules. Many industries are already starting a huge lobby campaign in Washington to kill the initiative. In fact, the U.S. Senate may soon vote on an industry-backed amendment that would stop the clean water rules from moving forward.
Maine’s senators, Susan Collins and Angus King, will have the opportunity to stand up for clean water by voting against this dirty water amendment. If such an amendment passes, clean water in Maine and around the country will suffer.
Mainers who care about clean water should contact the EPA in support of the rules. For information about the rules and how to weigh in, see www2.epa.gov/uswaters.
The bottom line is that we can’t have healthy lakes and rivers without protecting the small streams and wetlands that feed them. Small streams and wetlands filter pollutants, protect against flooding and serve as critical habitat for fish and wildlife.
Whether you’re fishing in Moosehead Lake, enjoying a streamside hike, fishing for brookies in a cool, clear stream or just expecting clean water when you turn on your tap, you should thank the Clean Water Act. And you should do one more thing: Support the EPA and the Army Corps as they work to make the Clean Water Act strong for future generations.
— Special to the Press Herald
About the Author Nick Bennett is the staff scientist for the Natural Resources Council of Maine in Augusta and an avid duck hunter.