The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently reduced federal protection for about half the nation’s wetlands and millions of miles of streams. This move guts an essential part of the Clean Water Act, taking us back to the lowest level of water protection in decades.
Under the new rule, if land developers want to destroy wetlands, they can fill in the wetland and pave right over it. Land developers can now ignore the waterfowl that nested in the wetlands and the floodwaters the wetlands used to absorb. Now, developers can dump waste and construction debris into small wet-lands and streams and walk away.
There will now be much less federal protection for wetlands and headwater streams that supply Montana’s drinking water and sustain our prized trout fisheries and our river-based economies.
The Trump administration’s own analysis of their rule disclosed that it will: 1. increase the discharge of pollutants into rivers and wetlands; 2. result in the destruction of aquatic ecosystems; 3. increase drinking water treatment costs for communities; 4. increase flood risk for communities; and 5) harm fishing and floating recreation. Yet the EPA reduced our clean water standards anyway. This new EPA rule threatens Montana’s outdoor recreation on our rivers, streams and wetlands — an industry that brings Montana $7.1 billion annually. The recreation industry supports more jobs in Montana than oil, gas and mining combined.
The new rule also removes protections for ephemeral streams that only flow after a rain or snowfall. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality estimates that 370,000 miles of streams in Montana are small intermittent or ephemeral streams. Though these streams flow only briefly, they recharge drinking water sources and protect downstream water quality by cleaning and absorbing floodwater.
More than half of America’s remaining wetlands and the waterfowl and other birds that depend on them are at grave risk under this new rule. Wetlands in Montana not immediately adjacent to larger waters will no longer be protected by the Clean Water Act. Montana’s prairie potholes, among the most important breeding habitat for North America’s migratory waterfowl and many other birds, would no longer be protected. With this new rule, industry, developers, and agriculture can dump waste, debris, and chemicals into these wetlands and destroy them forever.
Here in Montana, we value our clean water and our wetlands for fishing, floating, waterfowl hunting, and birding. Clean water is fundamental to keeping Montana the last best place. Why would the Trump administration want to remove Clean Water Act protections from our streams and wetlands? This tragic decision was made to increase profits for a few in business at the expense of our natural resources. This is yet another a bad decision by the Trump administration.
For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has protected the waters that we all rely on for drinking, fishing and recreating. There is no reason to reduce water protection for the short-term profit of a few at the expense of the rest of us.
Chris Servheen is a wildlife biologist, hunter, fisherman and a current board member of the Montana Wild-life Federation. He resides in Missoula.
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