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Safeguarding the Nation's Waters

The Colorado River has been called the lifeblood of the west, but the river has been squeezed to its breaking point and faces an uncertain future.

The Colorado River has been called the lifeblood of the west, but the river has been squeezed to its breaking point and faces an uncertain future.

Photo by Koji Hirano / Shutterstock

Earthjustice is working to defend our nation’s water resources because we all have the right to clean water. Working locally, regionally, and nationally, Earthjustice protects specific waters and raises the bar overall by pushing for protective water quality standards.

From coast to coast, America’s waters are suffering from numerous pollution insults like stormwater runoff and agricultural waste. Recent reports show that more than half of our waters are not meeting basic standards.

One in 10 Americans—about 30 million people—rely on the Colorado River for their water. Today, the river only trickles into the Gulf—in a wet year.

Earthjustice is safeguarding the nation’s waters by:

  1. Working with communities to defend water in Hawaiʻi as a public trust resource and to restore native rivers and streams by ending excessive and wasteful plantation-era diversions. Our successes include the Waiāhole case on Oʻahu, in which the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court issued a landmark opinion in 2000 affirming public trust protections for water resources, and the ongoing Nā WaiʻEha (“The Four Great Waters”) case on Maui, where community groups obtained a favorable Hawaiʻi Supreme Court ruling in 2012. Our latest action asks the state Water Commission to restore flows to Waimea River on Kauaʻi, in the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”
  2. Blocking unsustainable water grabs in water bodies like the Colorado River. With rampant droughts and growing demands for water, numerous proposals are on the table to divert Colorado River water to Colorado’s Front Range for cities, agriculture and oil and gas development. Earthjustice, working with community groups, was able to block a private developer’s rush to divert more than 16 percent of the Green River, a tributary of the Colorado. Earthjustice has also successfully defended a 20-year moratorium on uranium mining on nearly a million acres adjacent to the Grand Canyon. We’re also actively involved in the fight to protect habitat and river conditions that allow native species to flourish in this most special river ecosystem.
  3. Advocating effective pollution prevention techniques to limit stormwater pollution in Washington State’s Puget Sound. Earthjustice attorneys have been working for years to bring the state’s stormwater pollution prevention program into the 21st century. Stormwater pollution, which affects the Sound’s water quality and harms wildlife, has been cited as the number one threat to the Sound’s health. In 2012, our lawyers won a landmark victory that sets requirements for local jurisdictions to clean their stormwater using green design techniques.
  4. Setting limits on fertilizer, sewage and manure waste in Florida water bodies, which have caused sickening toxic algae outbreaks that ruin some of the state’s prime coastal communities. In 2008, Earthjustice filed a Clean Water Act suit on behalf of five Florida environmental groups that challenged the decade-long delay by the state and federal governments in setting limits for the pollution. In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed a binding legal agreement (consent decree) to set limits in Florida for the phosphorous and nitrogen that comes from sewage, manure, and fertilizer. Now, instead of keeping its word to enforce the Clean Water Act in Florida, the EPA is trying to modify the agreement so that fewer waters are protected. Earthjustice is challenging the EPA’s attempt to change the consent decree to ensure that public waters are protected.
  5. Cleaning up the Anacostia and Chesapeake rivers in Washington, D.C. by fighting to control sewer overflow and working to establish pollution limits. Once the pride of the District of Columbia, the Anacostia is now one of the nation’s most polluted rivers. In 2006 and again in 2010, a federal court called for stronger daily limits on pollution from combined sewer overflows and stormwater systems. The ruling had national reverberations—once it was in place, the federal EPA put out a recommendation to its regional offices that they, too, must start establishing daily limits. In 2012 and 2013 we successfully challenged two permits for stormwater pollution that lacked controls for cleaning up the rivers that flow through our nation’s capital.
  6. Restoring and maintaining adequate stream flows in the San Pedro River, the Southwest's last surviving undammed desert river, which is threatened by local groundwater pumping. In 2011, Earthjustice successfully challenged the lawfulness of a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion, which concluded that continued water withdrawals by the Army for Fort Huachuca, a U.S. Army base near Sierra Vista, Arizona, will not jeopardize endangered species dependent on the San Pedro River. In 2013, things took a grim turn for the river when a state agency ruled there was a sufficient available groundwater supply to allow a 7,000-unit housing development to go forward. Earthjustice is currently challenging the agency’s decision on behalf of landowners and conservationists.
  7. Fighting to regulate waste from confined animal feeding operations. In Arkansas, Earthjustice is working to protect the Buffalo River from a factory farm with 6,500 pigs that threaten to pollute this national treasure. Earthjustice filed suit in August 2013 against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration for their inadequate review and improper authorization of loan guarantee assistance to C&H Hog Farms. The pigs will produce more than two million gallons of manure, wastewater and litter each year, which will be collected in open-air storage ponds on site and spread onto approximately 630 acres of land surrounding the farm, most of this on fields that are adjacent to the banks of Big Creek. These manure application fields are less than six miles upstream from Big Creek’s confluence with the Buffalo National River.
  8. Restoring clarity to Lake Tahoe, one of the largest and deepest mountain lakes in the United States. In 2013, Earthjustice challenged new rules for Lake Tahoe that seriously reduce protections for the treasured mountain lake. The new Tahoe Regional Plan Update, approved in December 2012 by the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), shifts authority over future development decisions to local jurisdictions. The plan also allows those towns and counties to adopt weakened pollution controls that do not meet the minimum environmental requirements established by TRPA. The Plan Update will precipitate a drastic expansion of development that would be allowed without adequate environmental safeguards, preventing the achievement of the Tahoe Regional Planning Compact’s core purpose—protection and restoration of Lake Tahoe.