Clean Water Efforts Flow in Congress

New bill is a compromise from earlier versions, but a good start

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It’s raining here in Washington DC, but there’s no way this gray day is going to put a damper on my spirits. We got some great news from the House of Representatives this morning, announcing important clean water legislation has finally been intrdouced!

Here’s the gist: the U.S. Supreme Court made some supremely bad decisions over the last few years that essentially call into question whether up to 60 percent of our rivers, lakes, streams, wetlands and coastal areas are protected by the Clean Water Act.

The word in question is "navigable." And for the last few years, government agencies have been exempting clean water protections for streams that feed communities with drinking waters, rivers where fishers wade, lakes for boating and swimming holes for summer fun. This means polluters can dump pollution into waters where we drink, fish, swim and play.

The solution has been stalled in Congress for some time now. But today, thanks to the leadership of Chairman James Oberstar and the tenacity of Representatives John Dingell and Vernon Ehlers, new legislation called "America’s Committment to the Clean Water Act" (or as it’s known by its acronym, ACCWA…get it? "Aqua??" Pretty smooth) will hopefully restore protections for our waters and reclaim the original intent of the Clean Water Act. 

This current bill (formerly known as the Clean Water Restoration Act) is a compromise from what hundreds of environmental and public health groups have endorsed in the past. It’s not quite as strong as we hoped, but as our senior legislative counsel said in a statement today: "Compromise is part of the legislative process and Chairman Oberstar is trying to satisfy multiple interests. We pledge to work with him, his committee and other bill supporters to win passage of the strongest possible approach to restoring the scope of the law."

As spring and summer approach, my thoughts turn to memories of fishing along the Russian River, or boating up and down the Potomac. You might remember your own swimming hole or mountain stream that offered a cool welcome on a warm summer afternoon. Congress might have taken its time to introduce this important bill to protect these waters, but it’s better late than never.

Now we just need to make sure they recognize the importance of clean water to all our communities and do the right thing: pass strong clean water legislation now!

Jared was the head coach of Earthjustice's advocacy campaign team from 2004 to 2014.