There are Monsters in the Water: So Why the Delay on Clean Water Protections?

Written by Peter Lehner, Executive Director, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)

Some kids are afraid of sharks. In the ponds where I like to swim, itís snapping turtles (although Iíve never heard of one hurting a swimmer). Or they might even fear some sort of imaginary water monster, scaly and horrible, lurking in rivers and streams. As thousands of families head to the waterfront this summer, parents are preparing to conquer these fears and coax their kids into the water. But in some communities, the danger in the water is all too real. In Georgiaís Lake Blackshear, theyíre afraid of E. coli. In Talco, Texas, itís oil.

Yes, there be monsters here, but not the kind with tentacles and sharp teeth. These monsters are carcinogenic chemicals, crude oil and dangerous bacteria, spilled or dumped by industrial polluters, into small streams and wetlands, from where they can wash into bigger lakes, rivers, oceans and even drinking water supplies.

For more than a decade, the EPA has been hamstrung when polluters contaminated certain streams and wetlands, thanks to some muddled Supreme Court rulings and Bush-era policies that made Clean Water Act enforcement nearly impossible in these cases. And yet for the past two years, the Obama administration has been sitting on opportunity to better protect these waters. The administration has proposed strong protections for these waters, but has waited and waited to put them into effect. Itís high time the administration moved forward to strengthen clean water protections.

The Clean Water Act is our nation’s fundamental safeguard for water. Yet tens of millions of wetland acres which protect drinking water and provide crucial flood protection as well as wildlife habitat have been effectively cut out of Clean Water Act protections. And about 2 million miles of streams, which provide drinking water for 117 million people, along with the wetlands nearby, are in a legal limbo that prevents many of them from being protected. Hundreds of communities have been left at the mercy of polluters.

In Georgia, swimmers and boaters on Lake Blackshear have to deal with manure in the water, washed in by a factory farm upstream, because enforcement efforts were hampered. When crude oil spilled into Edwards Creek, a small, seasonal stream in Talco, Texas, the EPA didnít even bother to pursue enforcement, despite the fact that half the residents in the county get their drinking water from systems that rely on streams like these. The current legal tangle made it too complex to prove that Edwards Creek was protected under the Clean Water Act. This is what the administration’s proposal would fix.

According to The New York Times, EPA regulators said that in a four-year period, more than 1,500 major pollution investigations involving oil spills, carcinogenic chemicals and dangerous bacteria in lakes, rivers and other water bodies, were not being prosecuted.

Ensuring that small streams and wetlands are protected is an important measure for public health, and a sound economic decision as well. Wetlands soak up overflows from storms and swollen rivers like sponges, protecting billions of dollarsí worth of property and countless lives each year.

Across the country, we have 9.6 million homes and $390 billion in property located in 15,000 square miles of flood-prone areas. The flood insurance provided by protecting wetlands helps avoid the price, in economic and in emotional terms, we pay for rebuilding stricken towns.

Moving forward with new Clean Water Act protections will help preserve wetlands and small streams so more communities can have a reliable drinking water supply, swim without fear of getting sick and protect themselves and their families from devastating floods. It will help provide certainty for businesses and industry and support billions of dollars in economic activity, from manufacturers who need clean, ample water, like brewers, to the millions of anglers who fish in rivers, streams and lakes across the country. As global warming promises to deliver more extreme weather, disrupting water supplies and increasing flooding in many parts of the country, defending our waters from pollution becomes an even more critical effort.

Itís time to end the delay. Tell President Obama to protect our waters.


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra5 years ago

Thank you NRDC, for Sharing this!

Larry E.
Larry E.5 years ago

I represent a new startup company that recently developed and patented new oil sorption products using polyurethane to clean up oil spills. This technology is new to the oil industry and is 400% to 600% more effective than any other product available. You would think oil companies would be curious enought to return phone calls and emails? In the meantime, they continue to use inferior products. Our products could make a huge difference and alter the way oil clean up is handled in the future.

Any suggestions?

Larry Edwards
Monarch Green Inc.

Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran5 years ago

money over people and the environment!

Eva Adgrim
Eva adgrim5 years ago

Thank you for posting

Lynn C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Troy Grant
Troy Grant5 years ago

Unbelievable. Corporate cons think they and theirs are immune to disease from their toxic waste, or are too blinded by greed to care.

Ernie Miller
william Miller5 years ago

sad isnt it my big AG poluting state is doing everything possible to continue to pollute at will.

Cathleen K.
Cathleen K5 years ago

It's unbelievable that business is so short sighted that they think that polluting our water for short term gain is the smart thing to do, but it's even sadder that so many people in congress are willing to go along with such an agenda. The regulatory agencies have been hobbled by budget cuts since Clinton left the WH, and one of out two major parties actually thinks this is wise. There is nothing conservative about todays conservative movement. They are radical, right wing extremists. If you vote for 'moderate Republicans' today, you enable the crazies. Get rid of the GOP!

Cheryl B.
Cheryl B5 years ago

thanks for posting