Protections for some wetlands and streams have been rolled back by the Environmental Protection Agency, under the Trump Administration. The affected areas are ephemeral streams, which only flow part of the year, and isolated wetlands, which are not directly connected to larger bodies of water.
They are no longer considered “waters of the United States” under the Navigable Waters Protection Rule within the Clean Water Act. Advocates came up with their own name for this: The Dirty Water Rule.
It was approved in April, while most of the nation was shut down due to coronavirus. WUSF's Jessica Meszaros spoke with Jenna Stevens, state director of Environment Florida. Their conversation has been edited for clarity and grammar.
Can you explain what this rule does?
What this rule essentially does is it narrows the scope of what a body of water in The United States is to what it was way back under like the Reagan era. So it's a very narrow scope of protections, unfortunately. And, it's hard to say all of the reasons why this was done, but we can say with some certainty that this was done because there are interests that would like to have less waters regulated.
What's the potential impact of not regulating these waters in Florida?
If we're no longer protecting isolated wetlands, we're allowing them to be A) polluted or B) filled in and dredged completely so that they just don't exist really. And some of the impacts of that is that if we're losing more wetlands in Florida, we're putting our communities at greater risk of flooding during storm events.
Wetlands serve a really unique purpose here in Florida. They help hold storm waters or floods during high rainfall events, allowing our communities to be safer in the face of these storms by preventing that flooding.
Additionally, they kind of function as the kidneys of our ecosystems here in Florida. They help filter out pollutants so that when water does reach our larger bodies of water, there's less pollutants in that water to begin with. And so there's less work that our water treatment facilities have to do, our downstream waters are cleaner, our groundwater is cleaner -- all of that is helpful to the health of our waterways in Florida. We already have a huge amount of clean water issues, from red tide to blue green algal outbreaks over the last couple of summers. And what this could do is really it can do nothing to help the situation. It can only make the situation worse.
So this was finalized in April when the nation was pretty much shut down due to coronavirus, right?
I think at a time when our nation's priority needed to be on the health and safety of our communities, the continued focus of the Trump administration on rolling back some of our most basic and bedrock environmental protections is pretty absurd. Their focus should not have been on dismantling the Clean Water Act and instead should have been on protecting public health. And personally, I think access to clean drinking water is a huge part of public health, which is why this rollback, in particular, is so concerning.
Are advocates or lawmakers jumping in at all to try to reverse this?
Yeah, absolutely. Millions of Americans across the country submitted comments to the EPA, urging them to not roll back the 2015 clean water rule and then urging them not to reduce protections in their new version of the rule. Obviously, they have now done that and we're seeing in Congress that legislators are standing up for this. On May 8, representatives (Peter) DeFazio, (D-Oregon), and (Grace) Napolitano, (D-Texas), filed the Clean Water For All Act which would halt the dirty water rule and restore protections for our weapons and streams across the country, meaning cleaner and safer waterways for all Americans.