Clearer Protections for Headwater Streams

by Randy Pomponio

WOUS2Spring is finally here, and with it arrives new beginnings. Flowers and plants find new life, our avian friends fill the air, and the streams and creeks that run through our neighborhoods and parks are bubbling along.  This spring also brings a new day for determining Clean Water Act protection for streams and wetlands, which had become confusing and complex following several Supreme Court rulings.  After roughly a decade of confusion, the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule clarifies the jurisdictional status of seasonal and rain-dependent streams, wetlands, and isolated water bodies.

Under this clearer definition, the Clean Water Act will continue to protect our aquatic resources, including some of our most important waterways —headwater streams.  Headwater streams comprise over half of the total stream miles in the mid-Atlantic states, and play a fundamental role in reducing flooding, providing wildlife habitat, recharging groundwater, filtering pollution,  along with supporting hunting and fishing. Many of these benefits can be readily attributable to streams which only flow for part of the year. The vast majority of people in the mid-Atlantic rely, at least in part, on these types of streams for their drinking water supplies.

By clarifying the significance of these vital ecological functions – the proposed rule would provide for an estimated $388 million to $514 million annually of indirect benefits through the protection of  aquatic resources, just like your neighborhood creek.

If you are out for a hike this spring, and you notice that you need to leap over a stream that was dry back in the fall; that’s the type of water that will continue to be protected with this proposed rule.  Take a moment to consider the complexity of our aquatic resources, and how that seasonal creek contributes to the overall health of say, the mighty Delaware, Ohio, Potomac, and James River basins.  Under our watch and in our care are precious and life-sustaining tributaries.  This spring, we should celebrate their protection afforded by an illuminated Clean Water Act.

About the Author:  Randy Pomponio is the Director of the EPA Region 3 Environmental Assessment & Innovation Division.  He enjoys learning about our fascinating ecosystems and experiencing them through hiking, fishing, scuba diving, and best of all, sharing them with his children and grandchildren.