New Federal Rule Allowing Water Pollution Challenged

Bush administration okays pumping of polluted waters into clean rivers, lakes and streams


David Guest, Earthjustice, (850) 681-0031

Earthjustice filed suit in U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta today to challenge the Bush administration’s latest attempt to weaken the Clean Water Act.

On June 9, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule that says polluters don’t need to comply with the Clean Water Act when they transfer dirty water — from canals contaminated by urban or agricultural pollution, for example — directly into public lakes and streams.

Representing Florida Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice contends in its lawsuit that such water transfers should be protected by the Clean Water Act.

“The Bush administration has no right to create exemptions in the Clean Water Act that endanger public drinking water supplies,” Guest said. “The public won’t stand for this last-ditch move to protect polluters.”

The Bush administration’s water transfer rule has been the subject of legal challenges since it was first proposed in 2005. The issue arose out of a court case at Lake Okeechobee in South Florida. That case challenged the practice of “backpumping” water from contaminated drainage canals into Lake Okeechobee. The drainage canals are laced with fertilizer and urban and agricultural wastes. The practice has had disastrous effects on the lake, a major drinking water supply.

Earthjustice and the Florida Wildlife Federation sued, and won. The federal court ruled that the polluted water, coupled with routine disinfection at public water plants, creates “toxic disinfection byproducts that can sicken humans.”

Transfers of contaminated water have already triggered numerous toxic algae blooms around the United States. The algae growths can make people sick and sometimes kill livestock or pets that drink the water. The drinking water supplies for millions of Americans across the country have been affected, including notable cases in Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire, and California. The dirty water is a health risk for pregnant women, and taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in additional treatment costs while polluters put more profits in their pockets.

“Instead of tightening protections and cleaning up the pollution, the EPA chose to legalize it,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “We had no choice but to file suit.”

Read the suit (PDF)

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