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Do They Love That Dirty Water?

You'd think Colorado's two Democratic U.S. senators, Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, would be in the forefront to protect one of Colorado's most valuable natural resources: our water. Unfortunately, the jury is still out on whether they will be.

As has been amply detailed by Earthjustice and in a recent op-ed in the Denver Post by Trout Unlimited's Melinda Kassen, the federal Clean Water Act turned America's water from a polluted (and sometimes burning) mess into much cleaner lakes, rivers and streams.

As Kassen states, the Clean Water Act:

...is under assault—and so again are our rivers and streams. In recent years, the Supreme Court has issued confusing and muddled rulings that have distorted the original language of the Clean Water Act and drastically narrowed its scope. Worse, the justices themselves have not agreed on what the law means, with four justices suggesting that only rivers that flow year-round and can float logs or boats deserve protection.

As a result of this legal confusion, some 20 million acres of our country's wetlands and millions of miles of rivers and streams have been stripped of protections.

In Colorado, about 75 percent of rivers and streams—some 76,000 miles of waterways—run either seasonally during spring runoff or after summer rains, and thus [because of the Supreme Court's mis-interpretation of Congress's intent] may no longer qualify for CWA protection from dredging operations, oil spills, discharges of industrial waste or sewage, construction or unregulated development.

So, no Clean Water Act protection for 76,000 miles of rivers and streams is a bad thing that our environmental senators want to fix by supporting S. 787, the Clean Water Restoration Act, right?  Umm, maybe.

Senators Udall and Bennet—sounding more like red state Republicans—panned the initial version of the Act as "overly broad."  Udall's position was a curious about-face, given that he was an original co-sponsor of H.R. 1356, the restoration act in the House in 2005.

For his part, Bennet said the bill "could block access to waters for sportsmen and fishermen who have proven to be excellent stewards of our lands." It's a curious statement given that hunters and anglers are some of the most ardent supporters of the bill.  (And if you don't believe me, you can always visit "AmmoLand.com" and see for yourself.)  A Trout Unlimited rep promptly responded that Sen. Bennet had it "exactly backwards," because the Act protected waters and didn't limit access to them at all. 

Chest thumping about the bogeyman of federal control might be more persuasive if Colorado or other states had robust programs to protect intermittent streams, which provide critical habitat for wildlife and often feed into larger streams and lakes that are important drinking water sources.

Supporters of the Clean Water Restoration Act recently reported the bill out of committee with amendments meant to make it more palatable to the anti-federal crowd.  Will that be enough to bring senators Udall and Bennet back into the water protection fold?  

Feel free to ask them if they support the S. 787.  Sen. Udall's number is 202-224-5941; Sen. Bennet's number is 202-224-5852.  Or, if you love that dirty water, don't bother.

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.