Time to Comment to Protect Wetlands, Headwater Streams

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering changing the rules under the Clean Water Act.  Now it is asking what the public to comment on proposed changes.

The controversy is over the definition of the term “waters of the United States.”  The federal Clean Water Act protects the “waters of the United States.”  Everybody agrees that these “waters” include major rivers and streams.  The dispute is over how far beyond those major rivers protection extends.  More specifically, it is over whether wetlands and intermittent streams are protected.

Why this is important

            Nationally, the proposed rule removes protections for millions of acres of wetlands and small streams.  In West Virginia, weareparticularlyconcernedwithprotectionsforheadwaterstreams,includingintermittentandraindependentstreams.  It makes a difference in the regulation of mountaintop removal mining.  Some of the streams that are being filled are headwater streams that would no longer be protected under the proposed rule.

WestVirginiaistheheadwatersfortwoofAmerica’sgreatrivers,theOhioandthePotomac.Togethertheseriversprovidedrinkingwater,aswellaswaterforbusinessandrecreation,tomillionsofAmericans.  The proposed changes could put many of these waters at further risk.

OverhalfofWestVirginia’s1.8millionresidentsrelyonpublicwatersystemsfortheirdrinkingwaterthatoriginatesinpartinintermittent,ephemeralorheadwaterstreams.Thesearetheverytypesofstreamswhichwould not be protected under the proposed rule.

The EPA website provides a Geographic Information Systems Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral, and Headwater Streams in the U.S. The national map is interesting and informative, as are the individual state maps and narratives. (http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/wetlands/surface_drinking_water_index.cfm)

The narrative for West Virginia describes our dependence on these small streams for drinking water: “In West Virginia, 14,825 total miles of streams provide water for surface water intakes supplying public drinking water systems; of this, 8,387 miles, or 57%, are intermittent, ephemeral, or headwater streams. Over 1 million people in West Virginia receive drinking water from public drinking water systems that rely at least in part on intermittent, ephemeral, or headwater streams.”

Add to those numbers the many individuals who depend on surface water for their own private springs and cistern systems and the numbers are greatly increased.  These are the waters that would no longer be protected if the definition of waters of the United States is revised as proposed.

How (and why) to Comment

It is only theoretically true that the EPA has been noodling on making this change and wants to hear from the public before it makes up its mind.  It has made up its mind. President Trump campaigned on this; he did an Executive Order on the change.  The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy has spent a lot of time and energy fighting for headwater streams over the past few decades.  To protect what we have gained, and continue that fight, we need lots of comments.

To protect wetlands and headwater streams, we need to comment.  To comment, go to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149-0003.  The docket number is identified by Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149.  You can submit comments by any of the following methods:

  • Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov/(our preferred method). Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.
  • Email: OW-Docket@epa.gov.Include Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149 in the subject line of the message.
  • Mail:S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Docket Center, Office of Water Docket, Mail Code 28221T, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20460.
  • Hand Delivery/Courier:EPA Docket Center, WJC West Building, Room 3334, 1301 Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004. The Docket Center’s hours of operations are 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday (except Federal Holidays).