clean water act

Implementation of the Clean Water Rule Brings Opportunities

When the Clean Water Rule goes into effect on August 28, it marks a new era of protection for our nation’s streams and wetlands. We are enthusiastic about the opportunities provided by the rule to improve the process of identifying waters covered under the Clean Water Act and making jurisdictional determinations and permit decisions more effectively and efficiently. As EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implement the Clean Water Rule, the agencies will be taking several steps to increase transparency, provide information, and improve the permit process.

Increasing transparency: EPA and the Army Corps will launch a publicly-accessible, online database for all jurisdictional determinations and permits issued under the rule. The database will provide information, for example, on jurisdictional determinations associated with federal permitting programs as well as statistics on the total number, waterbody type, and watershed location. Data regarding the nature and number of pending determinations will also be made publicly available. This database will provide essential transparency needed for effective implementation of the rule.

Responding to information needs: The Clean Water Rule provides clear and comprehensive direction about the process for conducting jurisdictional determinations. Because the rule is so specific, there is no need for any new manuals or guidance documents.  Instead, the agencies will prepare a comprehensive Questions and Answers document that can be routinely supplemented as experience with the rule grows.   As with any new procedures, field staff and the public will have ongoing questions about the rule, and it is important for EPA and the Corps to identify issues and provide answers as the rule takes effect. We will also ensure the public can coordinate with the field staff as new questions arise after the rule goes into effect so that answers can be provided quickly.

Improving the permit process: EPA and the Army Corps will evaluate existing permitting tools and procedures and identify the changes needed to further reduce costs, delays, and frustration in federal permitting, while improving Clean Water Act protections that benefit public health and the environment. The agencies will focus on increasing the availability of information on issued permits, and improving coordination with federal and state permitting partners to reduce overlap and redundancy in permit reviews.

The strong commitment to seizing these opportunities during implementation of the Clean Water Rule was reflected in a memo distributed across the agencies by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. We will provide updates of our efforts on a regular basis as part of our obligation to implement the rule in an efficient and effective manner.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Clean Water for Everyone!

by Matt Colip

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with staff and volunteers from Environment Maryland showing their support of the Clean Water Rule at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD.

EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin with staff and volunteers from Environment Maryland showing their support of the Clean Water Rule at the National Aquarium, Baltimore, MD.

Last Tuesday, I woke up to a screaming alarm clock and the aroma of brewed coffee…yes, it was a typical weekday morning for me. However, today, rather than jumping on my bike to go to work downtown, I was traveling to Baltimore, Maryland with EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin for an event to raise public awareness about the Clean Water Rule (CWR).

Working for EPA, which partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to develop the CWR, I already knew the rule’s purpose: to make sure that waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA) are more precisely defined. Clearly defining our nation’s protected waters is not only a benefit for regulators, it also helps businesses and industry understand their role under the CWA.

With the sunlit water of the Chesapeake Bay as the backdrop for this event, each of the speakers spoke passionately about the need for clean water and how the CWR protects the water they rely on.  It wasn’t until this moment that I fully understood what the CWR means to so many different groups. In addition to EPA Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin, the event featured speakers from such varied groups as Environment Maryland, Baltimore Boating Center, Jailbreak Brewing Company, and the National Aquarium.

The benefits of the CWR add up quickly! For example, think about someone who travels to Baltimore to fish on the Chesapeake Bay from a chartered boat, and enjoys the catch-of-the-day with a cold beer from Jailbreak Brewing Company. That one person benefits from the CWR in four ways!

During the event, I began to count the ways I personally benefit from the rule.  My morning routine alone benefitted in several ways, and over the weekend, I thought of even more benefits: hiking by a protected surface water, using tap water to brush my teeth, brewing coffee, fishing, and turning on a light in my home (power plants need clean water for steam production in the electricity generation process).

How many ways do you benefit from the rule?  One hundred and seventeen million people nationwide benefit from the CWR safeguards for drinking water uses alone, and millions more benefit by having clean water for recreation (hiking, boating, fishing and more); household uses (showering, brushing teeth, and cooking); generating electricity; and meeting the many clean water needs of businesses.

Take a moment to find out more on the Clean Water Rule and leave a comment below to let us know how you benefit from clean water.

 

About the author: Matt Colip is a state and congressional liaison in the region’s Office of Communications and Government Relations. He previously worked in the region’s water programs, enforcing wastewater and stormwater regulations. In addition to SCUBA diving, Matt is an avid bicyclist and enjoys riding with friends and colleagues.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Modernizing Access to Environmental Data

Do you use our Enforcement and Compliance History Online database?

If you do, then you may already know about our yearlong modernization effort to make it one of the most robust government data tools in the world. If you don’t, then now is a good time to try it out. Recognized by President Obama as an exemplary federal agency data tool, ECHO houses environmental compliance information on more than 800,000 facilities nationwide. More than 2 million visitors checked it out last year.

Today I’m excited to report that we’ve just added air pollution data from our various reporting programs, known as the Air Pollutant Report. When you run a facility search, ECHO now lets you view and compare air data from our National Emissions Inventory, Toxic Release Inventory, Greenhouse Gas Reporting Tool and Acid Rain Program—along with facility compliance information—on a single, easy-to-use web page. Previously, in order to see the air pollution emissions for a given facility, you would have to search for it on four different websites and combine the data yourself. Now all of that information is presented on a single facility specific report.

NewScreenShotThis upgrade is a big boost for public transparency giving citizens, industry and government agencies an easy way to spot problems so they can play an active role in environmental protection. The Air Pollutant Report is currently in “beta” phase, and so we need your feedback on the design and contents of the tool. Adding air pollution data to ECHO is just one of many important upgrades we’ve made this year. Here are some of the others:

  • Last month, we launched a new dashboard that allows users to search for information on facility compliance with pesticide regulations.
  • In April, we launched a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) dashboard, a user-friendly tool that presents data about violations and the compliance status of public water systems. Popular Clean Water Act data sets were reposted to ECHO last summer, making it easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • A new mapping feature displaying the compliance status of EPA-regulated facilities lets users create customized maps using current data.
  • ECHO now allows users to search which facilities have reported Risk Management Plans required under the Clean Air Act.
  • In the spirit of the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, ECHO’s new technology also provides web services, widgets and other features allowing web developers to incorporate data and reports into their own websites.

In addition to all of these improvements, data in ECHO is now refreshed on a weekly basis, giving you more up to date information, often only a matter of days after we receive it from the states.

We’ve made remarkable strides in our effort to make environmental data accessible and easy to use. With greater access to information, you can be better informed about what’s happening in your community, which supports engagement and participation at every level of government.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Protecting Clean Water While Respecting Agriculture

Rule does not create any new permitting requirements, maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions

By Administrator Gina McCarthy and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy

Today, EPA and the Army finalized a rule under the Clean Water Act to protect the streams and wetlands we depend on for our health, our economy, and our way of life.

The Clean Water Act has protected our health for more than 40 years—and helped our nation clean up hundreds of thousands of miles of waterways that were choked by industrial pollution, untreated sewage, and garbage for decades.

But Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006 put protection of 60 percent of our nation’s streams and millions of acres of wetlands into question. At the same time, we understand much more today about how waters connect to each other than we did in decades past. Scientists, water quality experts, and local water managers are better able than ever before to pinpoint the waters that impact our health and the environment the most.

Members of Congress, farmers, ranchers, small business owners, hunters, anglers, and the public have called on EPA and the Army to make a rule to clarify where the Clean Water Act applies, and bring it in line with the law and the latest science. Today, we’re answering that call.

Every lake and every river depends on the streams and wetlands that feed it—and we can’t have healthy communities downstream without healthy headwaters upstream. The Clean Water Rule will protect streams and wetlands and provide greater clarity and certainty to farmers, all without creating any new permitting requirements for agriculture and while maintaining all existing exemptions and exclusions.

The agencies did extensive outreach on the Clean Water Rule, hosting more than 400 meetings across the country and receiving more than a million public comments. EPA officials visited farms in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Vermont.

Our nation’s original conservationists—our farmers, ranchers, and foresters—were among the most crucial voices who weighed in during this process. Farmers have a critical job to do; our nation depends on them for food, fiber, and fuel, and they depend on clean water for their livelihoods.

Normal farming and ranching—including planting, harvesting, and moving livestock—have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule doesn’t change that. It respects producers’ crucial role in our economy and respects the law. We’d like give a few more specifics on our final rule, starting with what it doesn’t do.

  • The rule doesn’t add any new permitting requirements for agriculture.
  • It doesn’t protect new kinds of waters that the Clean Water Act didn’t historically cover. It doesn’t regulate most ditches and excludes groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, and tile drains. And it doesn’t change policy on irrigation or water transfers.
  • It doesn’t touch land use or private property rights. The Clean Water Rule only deals with the pollution and destruction of waterways.
  • Again, our rule doesn’t touch long-standing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agriculture. It specifically recognizes the crucial role farmers play and actually adds exclusions for features like artificial lakes and ponds, water-filled depressions from construction, and grass swales.

What the rule does is simple: it protects clean water, and it provides clarity on which waters are covered by the Clean Water Act so they can be protected from pollution and destruction.

Feedback from the agricultural community led us to define tributaries more clearly. The rule is precise about the streams being protected so that it can’t be interpreted to pick up erosion in a farmer’s field. The rule says a tributary has to show physical features of flowing water to warrant protection.

We also got feedback that our proposed definition of ditches was confusing. We’re only interested in the ones that act like tributaries and could carry pollution downstream—so we changed the definition in the final rule to focus on tributaries. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.

We’ve also provided certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters—the rule sets physical, measurable limits for the first time. For example, an adjacent water is protected if it’s within the 100-year floodplain and within 1,500 feet of a covered waterway. By setting bright lines, agricultural producers and others will know exactly where the Clean Water Act applies, and where it doesn’t.

Farmers and ranchers work hard every day to feed America and the world. In this final rule, we’ve provided additional certainty that they’ll retain all of their Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions—so they can continue to do their jobs, and continue to be conservation leaders.
We appreciate everyone’s input as we’ve worked together to finalize a Clean Water Rule that keeps pollution out of our water, while providing the additional clarity our economy needs. Learn more here.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Cleaner Air Means Cleaner Water

by Tom Damm

photo credited to Eric Vance, EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, EPA

So, what does cleaner air as far away as Indiana have to do with cleaner water in the Chesapeake Bay? Plenty.

A sizable portion of the overload in nitrogen in the Bay and its surrounding waters comes from tailpipes and smokestacks in a vast area that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the mid-West and from North Carolina to a lower slice of Canada – and even beyond.

The nitrogen pollution is carried by winds and falls directly or washes into the Bay’s waters, contributing to algal blooms that rob oxygen in water needed by fish and other aquatic life to survive.

The good news is that actions by EPA and its state partners under the Clean Air Act have led to big reductions in those airborne nitrogen oxides, or NOx.

In putting together an EPA fact sheet on the topic, we found that two side-by-side graphics were most telling.

One shows the degree of nitrogen air pollution affecting the Chesapeake Bay watershed in 1986. The other shows the state of the air in 2013. It’s as if someone lifted a dark overlay.

That’s a big deal because scientists estimate that as much as a third of the nitrogen polluting the Bay comes from the air.

The fact sheet lists some of the Clean Air Act rules that have led to the sharp declines in NOx pollution. It also highlights figures that show EPA is on track to meet air pollution reduction goals in the Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet.”

And it’s not only the Chesapeake that benefits from the decrease in NOx pollution. Coastal waters from Long Island Sound to estuaries all along the Gulf Coast benefit from reduced nitrogen loads from the air.

You can do your part, too, to help brighten the picture. When possible, walk, bike or take public transportation to reduce vehicle emissions that pollute the air – and water.

 

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.

 

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Delivering on the Promise of the Clean Water Act

On January 9th of this year, concerned citizens noticed a chemical odor floating down the Elk River Valley toward Charleston, West Virginia. State inspectors traced the odor to a Freedom Industries facility, where they found a storage tank leaking the chemical MCHM, used in coal processing.

Before the day ended, drinking water supplies for more than 300,000 people were contaminated. Schools closed. Hospitals evacuated patients. And the local economy ground to a halt.

West Virginia led the response to contain the spill within days. EPA provided technical assistance to help clear the water system, helped determine a water quality level that would be protective of public health, conducted air monitoring—and sent a Special Agent from our Criminal Investigation Division to the site. The Special Agent, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston and the FBI, conducted more than 100 interviews and launched a joint investigation into the cause of the disaster.

We found a pattern of negligence by the storage tank owners, who were obligated to inspect the tank, fix corrosion, and take action to contain potential spills. Their negligence resulted in one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters in recent memory.

Today, U.S. Attorney Goodwin, along with EPA and FBI officials, announced that four former officers of Freedom Industries have been indicted on Clean Water Act negligent misdemeanor charges, as well as for violating the Refuse Act. Freedom Industries, along with two other individuals, were separately charged with Clean Water Act crimes. The four indicted defendants face multiple years in prison if they are convicted, and the two other individuals each face up to one year.

When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, it gave states primary authority to implement the laws and protect the environment, including safeguarding drinking water supplies for American communities. EPA works with states to deliver these benefits, including through criminal investigative work that holds serious violators accountable. Our efforts send a clear message to would-be violators that we’re serious about enforcing our laws fairly, leveling the field for companies that play by the rules and follow the law.

The spill occurred in the 40th anniversary year of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects drinking water sources and requires that water from our taps be clean. The law has been such a success, and we so often take safe drinking water for granted, that it’s easy to become complacent. But Freedom Industries’ illegal, negligent actions serve as a reminder that we need to vigilantly enforce our laws to protect safe water.

Just last week, the Source Water Collaborative, a group of 25 national organizations united to protect America’s sources of drinking water, launched a call to action—asking utilities, states, federal agencies, and local governments to do more to protect source water, and prevent disasters like the one in Charleston before they happen. EPA provides states with technical and scientific expertise, as we did in the aftermath of the chemical spill in Charleston. We’re also developing tools and resources for prevention, preparedness and response to spills or releases, and sharing them with states so they can meet their legal responsibilities.

Clean, reliable water is precious. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy. Our efforts can’t undo the damage done to public health, the local economy, and the environment in Charleston. But by working together, we can help prevent spills like this one in the future, and protect our children’s health for years to come.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Your Input Helps Protect Clean Water

Clean water is essential to our health, our economy, and our way of life. And the Clean Water Act of 1972 is both an environmental success story and one of America’s greatest economic triumphs. Back in the 1970s, 2 out of 3 of our nation’s waterways were polluted. Today, 2 out of 3 are healthy. Cleaning up pollution boosts our economy—by creating jobs, lowering health care costs, and clearing the way for commerce.

That’s why we have to make sure the Clean Water Act works the way it’s supposed to. But right now, 60 percent of our nation’s streams and wetlands lack clear protection and 1 in 3 Americans get their drinking water from sources at risk. So earlier this year, EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a rule to safeguard the clean water we all depend on.

Today marks the end of an extensive public comment period on our proposed rule—more than 200 days long—during which we held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders and received over a million comments on our proposal.

EPA and the Army Corps appreciate everyone’s input on the rule, and we want you to know we’re listening. We heard a variety of views.

Many brewers and business owners stressed the economic importance of clean water to their operations. Hunters and anglers reinforced that clean water is essential to recreation and tourism. Faith groups shared that clean water is central to protecting our most vulnerable citizens.

Others expressed reservations about our proposal. Some in the agriculture community raised concerns that our proposal will regulate water on their property, making it harder for them to do business. That’s not at all our intent, and we’ve been working with them to address their concerns in the final version.

We appreciate everyone who engaged with EPA. Whether they supported the proposal or wanted changes, their voices were heard and their input will help shape the final rule. That’s how this process works. By offering a draft rule and taking public comments into account, EPA and the Army Corps are considering all viewpoints and will come up with a final version that’s strong and workable. Everyone’s perspectives matter to us.

Over the coming weeks, EPA and the Army Corps will work through the comments we’ve received and decide how best to incorporate them into a final rule. We appreciate your input, and we encourage you to stay tuned.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

A Commitment to Keep Our Waters Clean and Safe

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it gave EPA the responsibility to protect public health and the environment from pollution stemming from farms and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). We take this charge seriously and have dedicated one of EPA’s six National Enforcement Initiatives to preventing animal waste from CAFOs from contaminating water. If not managed properly, animal waste can impair drinking water sources, transmit disease-causing bacteria and parasites, and pollute the rivers and lakes on which we all depend.

In 2011, an EPA review of a poultry CAFO owned by Lois Alt in West Virginia determined that when it rained, manure and other pollutants were discharging into a nearby creek that flowed into the Potomac River. The discharge required a permit under the Clean Water Act which would have defined safeguards to minimize pollution.

EPA issued an administrative order to address this pollution. The Alt CAFO then clarified existing management practices and adopted new ones in its operations to reduce runoff of manure, and then challenged the order in court. After EPA’s follow-up inspection and correspondence with Ms. Alt confirmed that the changes would reduce pollution, EPA withdrew the order and requested the court to dismiss the case because the dispute was over. It was time to move on and focus on more pressing issues of environmental and public health protection.

The district court nonetheless heard the case. After more than a year of legal proceedings, the district court issued a decision that offers an overly broad view of the Clean Water Act’s exemption for agricultural stormwater.

Although EPA thinks that the district court decision is wrong, we also think that it is time to stop spending resources on litigation about this CAFO. EPA is not going to appeal this decision; our resources are better spent remedying more serious, ongoing pollution across the country.

The briefs we filed in this case – and many others – state that Congress established CAFOs as point sources, and that when CAFOs discharge pollutants from the production area into waters of the United States, as the Alt operation did, the law requires permit authorization.

EPA stands by this position.

Pollution from CAFOs flowing into local waterways when it rains is an environmental and public health risk. The law gives EPA the authority to require that agriculture operations with large numbers of animals in a small area that discharge pollutants to U.S. waters obtain a permit, to reduce their environmental impact. EPA remains committed to working with the agricultural community to ensure compliance with this legal requirement and to pursue enforcement when necessary. One district court decision does not change either the law across the country or EPA’s commitment to protecting water quality.

A smart and strategic enforcement program requires us to make choices about where to spend our time for the biggest benefit to the public. We stand firm on this commitment to protect public health and the environment.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Road Tripping Through Watersheds

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

Road trips are a great way to take in scenery like this.

by Bonnie Turner-Lomax

All across the country Americans enjoy taking to the road to popular vacation spots; visiting family or friends; or on day-trips to favorite destinations. My husband and I recently completed what has been an annual ritual for the last four years…driving my daughter from our home in New Jersey to college, just outside Pittsburgh.

The roughly five hour road trip (each way) covers almost the entire east-west length of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, taking us from one end of the state to the other. The more than 300-mile journey is an experience of spectacular and varied scenery from the densely populated and urbanized Philadelphia suburbs to the rolling hills, mountains and valleys of the western end of the state.

More than half of the trip goes through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains into a particular river, lake, bay or other body of water. Encompassing 64,000 square miles, with more than 17 million people living in its midst, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is one of largest watersheds in the country. It is supported by thousands of smaller creeks, streams and rivers. Each of these smaller waterways has its own watershed, sometimes referred to as sub or local watersheds.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it didn’t just defend the big mighty waters like the Chesapeake Bay, the Mississippi River, or the Great Lakes, it also protected the smaller streams and wetlands that flow into rivers and lakes. The law recognized that to have healthy communities downstream, we need healthy headwaters upstream.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the proposed Waters of the U.S. Rule, in March that strengthens protection for clean water that’s vital to our health and our economy. Science shows what kinds of streams and wetlands impact water downstream – so our proposal says that these waters should be protected.

One in 3 Americans—117 million of us—get our drinking water from streams, creeks, and wetlands currently lacking clear protection. Safeguarding smaller streams is also crucial for our economy in areas like tourism, manufacturing, energy, recreation and agriculture.

So even when “just driving through” an area, be mindful that actions in one place can impact waterways hundreds of miles away.

 

About the author: Bonnie Turner-Lomax is the communications coordinator for the Region’s Environmental Assessment and Innovation Division. She enjoys theater, traveling, and taking long road trips with her family.

 

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Mapping the Truth

Since releasing our proposal in March to better protect clean water, there have been some questions raised in the press, most recently about maps that use data developed by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish & Wildlife Service and show locations and flow patterns of many of the nation’s waterways.

Before discussing the truth about the history and purpose of the maps, let’s review some basic facts. The Clean Water Act was passed by Congress to protect our nation’s water bodies from pollution. This law has nothing to do with land use or private property rights, and our proposal does not do anything to change that. The idea that EPA can use the Clean Water Act to execute a land grab or intrude on private property rights is simply false. More

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.