Clean water is unquestionably important for people, fish, and wildlife. More often than not, what is bad for fish is bad for our communities. That is certainly true of the “Dirty Water Rule” released yesterday by the EPA and touted by the Trump Administration.
This new rule removes protections from millions of miles of headwater streams and wetlands nationwide, the very places that provide our drinking water and are the life source for our trout streams. In Montana, most of our streams run full with snowmelt in the spring, diminish throughout the summer and fall, only to run full again the following season. The upper stretches of most of these streams, the headwaters, the wetlands that sustain summer flows, the true origins of all our treasured rivers are now fair game for polluters. Today’s new rule lifts reasonable regulations on polluters and development of many of the sources of clean water in our state for the first time since the Clean Water Act passed with broad support almost 50 years ago.
“We cannot overstate how far this sets us back when it comes to protecting our water,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. Montana Trout Unlimited executive director David Brooks added that “This is the most severe attack ever on clean water and the most successful and scientifically-sound water protection law in the nation.”
Everyone learns at an early age that water runs downhill. When someone pollutes upstream, the poison doesn’t just stay there. It trickles, or in some cases like our own Clark Fork River, floods and impacts downstream communities. Our headwater streams are the source of our water supplies, yet the Environmental Protection Agency is ignoring the best available science and putting both public health and our fisheries at risk. While drafting the new rule, the EPA ignored a report from its own science advisory board that the rule was not grounded in good science. A number of former and current long-serving EPA employees are also filing a complaint that EPA leaders ignored science, dismissed concerns within the agency, and barred employees from opposing or commenting on the process or the outcome. For those of us who believe sound policy should be based in reason, the decision to remove these protections seems rash and arbitrary. (See articles in the NY Times and on TU National’s website.)
Montana TU is dedicated to protecting and conserving our clean water both now and for future generations of fish and anglers and we will continue to stand against efforts to enable polluters. Safeguarding our state’s coldwater resources doesn’t just ensure our trout streams remain healthy, it also preserves public health, natural areas, and Montana’s sporting traditions, heritage and outdoor economy. Today’s decision is a final rule, which means there is no further comment period or public review. The EPA and Trump Administration have brazenly ignored the comments of MTU, conservation groups and outdoor industry businesses here at home and nationwide, as well as the public. However, Montana TU is continuing to review the final rule and may have no choice but to join other conservation groups, including Trout Unlimited, states, and communities in challenging this harmful rule.