Bush Rule Change Will Degrade California's Waters
October 16th marked the 31st anniversary of the Clean Water Act, and environmental groups anticipate the imminent release of the Bush administration's decision to rollback clean water protections. In a major rewrite of federal clean water regulations, the administration is expected to derail the cleanup and protection of rivers, lakes and other waterbodies in California. The change -- dubbed by Bush Administration officials as the "watershed rule" -- would undermine longstanding water clean-up regulations under the part of the law known as the "Total Maximum Daily Load" program.
"Communities across California depend on the Clean Water Act to clean up and protect rivers, streams, lakes and other waters used for swimming, fishing and drinking," said Leo O'Brien, Exec. Dir. of Waterkeepers Northern California. "This weakening of the Act should be called the "dirty watershed rule," because these changes will gut one of the most important tools we have for making our waters cleaner and keeping them that way."
Environmental groups received copies of the draft rule in May. EPA officials recently closed the public comment period and are expected to issue the final rule very soon.
"The Bush administration is bowing to industry pressure and corporate agricultural interests by moving forward with this plan to let polluters keep polluting," said Deltakeeper Bill Jennings. "EPA has admitted that it is moving ahead with the new rulemaking without even investigating the water quality impact of the proposal. That pretty much proves that this is not about improving water quality."
Based on early drafts of the proposed rule, Waterkeepers established that the entire Bay-Delta ecosystem would be harmed by the dirty watershed rule.
The Bay and its watershed include the entire Delta and all its tributaries, such as the Stanislaus and other major rivers, which drain from the Sierras. From the northern tip of the Sacramento River to the southern end of the San Joaquin River, these vital public trust resources carry over 2/3 of California's water supply through agricultural lands, urban areas, and massive industrial complexes before emptying into the San Francisco Bay. Heavy metals and toxic contaminants such as mercury, selenium, dioxin and pesticides pollute these waters. The new rule will postpone cleanup of the watershed and introduce new loopholes into the permitting process for major dischargers.
"The Bay-Delta ecosystem is the source of drinking water for 20 million Californians and provides habitat for many endangered species," said Mr. O'Brien. "It's a shame for the federal government to change the rules at the expense of one of the most important estuaries in North America."
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