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Groups say Rollback of Clean Water Rule Puts Ohio Drinking Water at Risk

In 2014, an algal bloom in Lake Erie poisoned the drinking water supply of 400,000 people in the Toledo area. (NOAA)
In 2014, an algal bloom in Lake Erie poisoned the drinking water supply of 400,000 people in the Toledo area. (NOAA)
June 28, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Federal agencies are proposing the first of two steps to roll back the legal safeguards protecting waterways in Ohio and around the nation.

The Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers on Tuesday announced a plan to rescind the Clean Water Rule, established in 2015 by the Obama administration to extend Clean Water Act protections to small streams and wetlands. Frank Szollosi, Ohio manager for the National Wildlife Federation, said the rule protects the drinking water sources for one in three Americans.

"It's important that clean-water protections are extended, not clawed back," he said. "The federal government just yesterday talked about how the harmful algal bloom in the western basin of Lake Erie was going to be quite large. Clearly, we're not doing enough to clean our water. We should be doing more, not less."

Szollosi pointed out that it was just three summers ago when an algal bloom poisoned the drinking-water supply of 400,000 people in the Toledo area. He added that waters protected under the rule support the fishing and hunting economy, worth more than $200 billion, and the 1.5 million jobs it supports. Some agribusinesses and manufacturers have criticized the Clean Water Rule as federal overreach.

A second rule to be released in the coming months would revise the waterways protected under the Clean Water Act. Collin O'Mara, president and chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation, said it would end protections for nearly 60 percent of streams and about half of wetlands, which are vital to the health of larger bodies of water.

"This isn't a partisan issue; 90 percent of Americans want clean water and we need to invest, we need to protect these waterways," he said, "and frankly, we need to do it in a way that's much more based on science and much less based on politics."

O'Mara said the majority of comments submitted on the original Clean Water Rule were supportive, and noted that this time around, the comment period is just 30 days.

"If enough Americans speak out on this, then I think they would think twice about what they're doing," he said, "and hopefully, we would actually have some additional investment in places like the Ohio River Valley and others that desperately need the investment to improve water quality."

The Trump administration has said the rule review is in the national interest to keep waters free from pollution, while at the same time promoting economic growth and reducing regulatory uncertainty.

More information is online at epa.gov.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH