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CCE PRESS CENTER

PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release:
Tuesday, March 25, 2014
For more information contact:
Brian Smith, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, 716-831-3206, bsmith@citizenscampaign.org

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION RULE WILL BETTER PROTECT NEW YORK WATERS

Buffalo, NY –Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) is praising a new federal rule announced today by the Obama Administration, which will help to protect U.S. waters from pollution and destruction. When finalized, this rule will be critical to protecting New York’s drinking water, wetlands, streams, and Great Lakes.

“This rule will benefit millions of people across New York with cleaner drinking water, increased recreational opportunities, and greater flood protection,” said Brian Smith, program & communications director, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The rule cleans up a mess created by conflicting and confusing court decisions that have led to the destruction of many important wetlands.”

The rule clarifies which waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, the landmark environmental law enacted in 1972 to protect waters of the United States from pollution and degradation. At the time, rivers were so polluted that that they caught fire—and Lake Erie was on the verge of being declared “dead” because aquatic life had practically vanished. The Clean Water Act was instrumental in curbing pollution into our nation’s—and New York’s—waterways, leading to the restoration of waters across the United States, including the Great Lakes.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006, however, questioned the authority of the Clean Water Act to protect waters that do not continuously flow throughout the year, or that are not always connected to large, navigable waters. The rulings forced state and federal regulatory agencies to make very subjective case-by-case decisions every time an activity was proposed near one of these waterways. The court decisions jeopardized an estimated 90 percent of the wetlands remaining in New York, as well as a number of small streams. EPA estimates that more than 11 million New Yorkers receive some of their drinking water from areas containing these smaller streams.

“The last decade of uncertainty has taken a toll,” continued Smith. “The rule will be a big step forward in restoring Clean Water Act protections for U.S. waters, including water that is critical to drinking water supplies and for fish and wildlife habitat that is the foundation of New York’s outdoor recreation economy. After all, they don’t call it the Partially Clean Water Act.”

In 2011, New York State had the second highest rate of expenditures by anglers, totaling more than $2.6 billion with more than 1.8 million anglers. Much of that activity depends on clean and healthy aquatic habitat.

The rule will help restore the health of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the other Great Lakes by protecting wetlands and streams that feed the lakes. Healthy wetlands and streams improve water quality by filtering polluted runoff from farm fields and city streets that otherwise would enter rivers and streams that flow into the Great Lakes. Wetlands provide vital habitat to wildlife, waterfowl, and fish. They also reduce flooding by absorbing heavy rains and replenishing groundwater supplies.

The rule will complement efforts to restore and protect wetlands through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). According to the U.S. EPA, approximately 100,000 acres of wetland, coastal, upland and island habitat have been protected, restored, or enhanced through the GLRI.

Yet, wetland loss is a huge concern. The Great Lakes region has lost about 66 percent of its historic wetlands. New York has lost 60 percent of its wetlands. Absent a strong federal rule, many of New York’s smaller wetlands are subject to pollution or destruction, as the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is only authorized to regulate and map wetlands of a size greater than 12.4 acres (5 hectares) or wetlands of “unusual local importance.”

The rule clarifies longstanding Clean Water Act protections for many — but not all — streams, wetlands, and other waters critical to communities and wildlife alike. The rule clarifies that EPA and the Corps of Engineers, in partnership with the states, can and must protect waters of the United States from pollution and destruction. The proposed rule preserves existing exemptions for farming, forestry, mining and other land use activities, and – for the first time – explicitly excludes many ditches, ponds, and other upland water features important for farming and forestry.

The Obama Administration will finalize the rule following a public comment period. State conservation groups will provide input on the rule to ensure that it offers full protection to waters, including the region’s many small lakes and seasonal wetlands.

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Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) empowers communities and advocates solutions for our shared environment and public health and is supported by over 80,000 members throughout New York State and Connecticut. www.citizenscampaign.org

updated by dcoppola  3/26/14