Get unlimited digital access to baltimoresun.com. $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Op-Eds

Trout, the bay — and your drinking water — at risk in the Senate [Commentary]

On Monday, the Chesapeake Executive Council signed the Chesapeake Watershed Agreement, a collaborative effort across multiple states to protect and restore the Chesapeake Bay. But the celebration of the watershed agreement may be premature. Down the road in Congress there is an effort under way to strip the protections of the Clean Water Act from small headwater streams that feed the bay with cold, clean water.

The federal government recently proposed a rule to clarify a politically charged Supreme Court ruling which undermined 30 years of protection of the Clean Water Act for small headwater streams. The court ruled that the EPA needed to prove a "significant nexus" to navigable waterways in order for the protections of the Clean Water Act to apply to intermittent and ephemeral streams and isolated wetlands. The new rules are based on an exhaustive scientific review that demonstrate that intermittent and ephemeral streams have a significant nexus with navigable waterways. Nearly 40 percent of all of the stream miles in the Chesapeake watershed are small, seasonal headwater streams. All of them would benefit from the rules proposed by the federal government.

Despite the seasonality, these streams are important trout habitat, and they are vital for downstream water quality. Protecting the water quality of the Chesapeake starts with protecting these headwater streams.

Working through our volunteers and partners, Trout Unlimited has made excellent progress in restoring and protecting many streams that feed the bay. In West Virginia, we installed over a million feet of fence to keep cattle out of the upper reaches of the Potomac. In Pennsylvania, we've worked with private landowners to help establish conservation easements that reduce runoff. In Maryland and New York, we restored stretches of river to stabilize banks and create fish habitat and angling opportunities.

The Clean Water Act is the fundamental tool that makes this work possible. And the Clean Water Act's protections for small streams are under attack.

A bill moving through the Senate Appropriations Committee chaired by Maryland's Sen. Barbara Mikulski will likely see an amendment to kill the federal government's Clean Water Act rules. Companion legislation in the House of Representatives would prohibit the EPA from working on the rule, and we expect an amendment to be offered to the Senate version to do the same thing. The Energy and Water Appropriations bill funds many important water enhancement programs across the country, and opponents to the proposed rule see it as an opportunity to assault America's foremost water quality law and play politics with clean water and healthy, fishable streams.

Instead of inappropriately using a funding bill to derail clean water rules, critics should participate in the public process to make the rules better.

The point is not to regulate a farmer's ditch or farm pond. We only want to restore the application of the Clean Water Act to waters that were protected for the first 30 years of the Clean Water Act's existence.

As chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Mikulski holds the key to keeping the Clean Water Act and its importance in protecting the bay intact. She has long been a champion of the Chesapeake, and as we sit on the verge of celebrating an agreement that will continue to improve its water quality, we need her strong leadership once again.

Whether you fish for brook trout in the headwaters or catch rockfish in the bay itself, or are just one of the 3.9 million people who get drinking water from the streams that would be protected by this rule, please make your voice heard. Support the senator in doing what it takes to defend the Clean Water Act from misguided attacks.

Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. His email is cwood@tu.org.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Mikulski must stand up for clean water [Letter]
    Mikulski must stand up for clean water [Letter]

    This spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took some long-overdue steps to fix the Clean Water Act, ending confusion over which streams and wetlands are protected by the law. Loopholes in the law created over the past decade have left more the half the stream miles in the U.S. and...

  • O'Malley sticks it to farmers on his way out the door
    O'Malley sticks it to farmers on his way out the door

    On behalf of 36,000 Maryland Farm Bureau families, I have to disagree with your editorial on the issue of the new phosphorus rules ("Phosphorus rules, finally," Nov. 18). Gov. Martin O'Malley did not get it right. In fact, this is effectively just one last tax increase he is trying to force...

  • Fix the Conowingo before another Hurricane Agnes hits [Letter]
    Fix the Conowingo before another Hurricane Agnes hits [Letter]

    I read with interest commentator Anirban Basu's article touting what a great asset the Conowingo dam is and how it enhances the lives of all Marylanders ("Support the dam to support Md.," Oct. 13).

  • Dam cleanup too costly
    Dam cleanup too costly

    Regarding the recent commentary about the Conowingo Dam ("Maryland can enforce dam cleanup," Nov. 19), Bob Irvin is correct for the most part. However, let's keep in mind that the Conowingo is a man-made obstruction to sediment, leaves and tree logs that Mother Nature really intended to go to...

  • What about Pa. manure?
    What about Pa. manure?

    On an almost recurring basis lately, The Sun has devoted itself to bringing to everyone's attention the Eastern Shore poultry industry's polluted runoff flowing into the Chesapeake Bay ("Larry Hogan has a chance to be a green governor," Dec. 13). Attention should be directed to the Amish...

  • Phosphorus rules, finally
    Phosphorus rules, finally

    As we have chided Gov. Martin O'Malley more than once on this page for dragging his feet on regulations intended to reduce the amount of polluting phosphorus pouring into the Chesapeake Bay from farms, it's only fair to herald his decision to move forward with the rules. That he chose to...

  • Hogan can protect farms and open space
    Hogan can protect farms and open space

    Congratulations to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on his inauguration. Mr. Hogan ran a terrific campaign, and we all look forward to his leadership on one of the most important roles, safeguarding the lands and waters of this beautiful state.

  • New rules needed to protect Eastern Shore waterways
    New rules needed to protect Eastern Shore waterways

    After talking about it for years, Maryland finally has proposed long-overdue regulations on phosphorous pollution from animal manure in the Chesapeake Bay ("Hogan vows to fight farm pollution rules," Dec. 8).

Comments
Loading