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In Light of Colorado Floods, New EPA Report Reveals Importance of Wetlands and Streams

EcoWatch

By Laura Beans

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters: A Review and Synthesis of the Scientific Evidence, detailing the impact that small bodies of water, such as streams and wetlands, have on larger waterways further downstream. The report looks at the effects of downstream pollution on drinking water and public health.

“Each day, our nation’s streams provide drinking water for millions of families and more than a third of Americans," said Micheal Brune, executive director of Sierra Club. "Without strong protections, these streams risk pollution, and wetlands risk being filled, exacerbating—or even causing—downstream floods that threaten public safety and homeowners."

Unprotected waterways can have devastating impacts on communities. Pleasant Mountain Road in Colorado has been destroyed by flooding.

According to Environment America, the report is expected to trigger the Obama Administration to clarify and restore protections for some of America's most important waterways. According to the U.S. EPA's own data, loopholes in the Clean Water Act leave 59 percent of streams across the country unprotected. The U.S. EPA’s report pulls together the existing science on these streams, wetlands and other unprotected waterways and outlines their connection to downstream waters. Americans across the country have spoken out in support of protecting all of America’s waterways—more than 200,000 public comments were submitted to the U.S. EPA, and more than 430 local elected officials and 180 farmers have encouraged the Obama administration to restore critical protections to our waterways.

“Loopholes in the Clean Water Act have left the drinking water for 117 million Americans at risk of dangerous pollution,” said Ally Fields, clean water advocate for Environment America. “This report pulls together the best science available on how our smaller lakes, streams and wetlands are connected to iconic waterways across the country.”

“Protecting our waters also makes economic sense," Brune continued. "Wetlands in the continental U.S. save at least $30 billion a year in flood damage repair costs—an important fact as our nation faces stronger and more destructive weather brought on by climate disruption."

“Wetlands and small streams are critical habitat for fish and wildlife but they will remain at risk until the new 'waters of the U.S.' rulemaking is complete," said Jan Goldman-Carter of National Wildlife Federation. "The White House must move quickly to protect the many wetlands, lakes and tributary streams that influence the health of our nation’s rivers and our drinking water supplies.”

Visit EcoWatch’s CLEAN WATER ACT page for more related news on this topic.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.