Waterkeeper Alliance's Clean Water Act 40 Campaign
Celebrating 40 Years of Clean Water and Healthy Communities
Nearly 40 years ago, Congress signed into law a historic piece of legislation that would turn the tide of our polluted waterways and hold big polluters accountable for their actions and attacks on the health of our communities. Prior to the Clean Water Act’s enactment, the Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it was literally in flames, the majestic Hudson River’s fishery was gone and Lake Erie was declared all but dead. This bold legislation put forward by visionaries in Congress returned control of our nation’s waterways to the citizens of the United States as part of the public trust. However, today the concept of the public trust, the commons, is being quickly eroded by corporate polluters and their cronies in Congress who are determined to return to the era of using out nation’s waterways as open sewers, toxic dumps and landfills.
Despite the fact that the Clean Water Act has been responsible for providing millions of Americans with opportunities to swim, drink and fish in clean water, every branch of our federal government—the legislative, executive and judicial—has taken aim at the Act. The courts have worked to narrow the definition of “waters of the United States,” and Congress has made efforts to continually chip away at the Act. Many states have even joined the party, cutting clean water enforcement budgets every time they face a fiscal challenge. Now, as we celebrate 40 years of clean water protections, our Congress is launching the most aggressive, nefarious attacks on our right to clean water in history.
As the Clean Water Act moves into its 40th year, it faces a midlife crisis not of its own doing, but by members of Congress who put the interest of the public aside to do the bidding of the corporate polluters that fill their campaign coffers. If their efforts succeed, they will cripple contemporary American democracy and undermine the most extraordinary body of environmental law in the world. We, as the voices of clean water, cannot allow that to happen.
Most recently, in the latter months of 2011, a myriad of bills before the U.S. House of Representatives have been laden with extraneous amendments and anti-environmental ‘riders’ that seek to dismantle our environmental protections piecemeal, or, as in the case of one of these bills, the cynically named Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011 (H.R. 2018), which would seek to take a sledgehammer to the very foundation of the Clean Water Act.
The bill takes aim at the Clean Water Act, which has become a global model for water protection. Seeking to strip the federal government’s authority to regulate water quality standards and weaken U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s power to enforce the law when states fail to protect waterways, this approach will start a race to the bottom as shortsighted and self-interested state politicians dismantle their clean water laws as payback to their supporters, including the nation’s worst polluters. These bills, amendments and budget riders propose to gut the Clean Water Act and jeopardize the environmental health of our waterways and the lifeblood of our communities across the country, all without public debate.
In 2012 and beyond, Waterkeeper Alliance, River Network and our partners will work to remind Americans, and the world, that we have indeed come a long way from 1969 when the Cuyahoga River was burning. But we still have a long way to go to protect all of our waterways and attain Congress’ 1972 goal to have eliminated all discharges of pollutants into navigable waters by 1985, a goal that clearly has not been achieved.
On the 39th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the Waterkeeper Alliance officially launched its Clean Water Act (CWA) 40 Campaign. The goal of CWA 40 is to bolster the imperiled Act through implementing a strategic series of coordinated efforts to celebrate, activate and advocate around the central tenets of the Act: swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters for all.
To make the most of this opportunity, the campaign will not only educate the public about the importance of the Act, but also activate and empower our coalition to influence national leaders from a policy and enforcement perspective. We will not stand for any attacks on our communities that undermine the clean water protections that our streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries have been afforded over the past 40 years.
Strategies & Tactics
The three central components of the initiative will employ a variety of strategies and tactics that seek to attract diverse participation from clean water advocates across the country.
1. Celebrate: A series of Swimmable, Drinkable and Fishable Water Action Days will celebrate the victories enabled by the Act and the basic fundamental right to clean water through high profile events around the nation and “virtual marches” on Washington, wherein we will target support for specific measures that will strengthen these three essentials. These Action Days will culminate in a major “Swim, Drink, Fish Rally” on the National Mall in October 2012, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Clean Water Act.
2. Activate: Waterkeeper Alliance will activate a national alliance of environmental groups that work to protect clean water and develop a network of “Waterkeeper Clubs” on college campuses to engage young people in this effort. In addition, we will be working simultaneously with Waterkeepers and volunteers in communities across the country to educate citizens about the importance of clean water to the environment and the health of our communities.
In May of 2012, Waterkeeper Alliance is joining forces with River Network to hold the largest gathering of water advocates to date: River Rally 2012. More than 600 people will join together in Portland, Oregon to enhance their water-related technical skills, learn how to build the capacity of their organizations, share best practices for watershed protection and receive training on advocating for the Clean Water Act in their watersheds.
Waterkeeper Alliance plans to develop advocacy toolkits to aid in the education of River Rally attendees so they can return to their watersheds and educate members of their communities on the value of clean water and the need to protect that right for all. By doing so, we will build a grassroots constituency that is rarely engaged in public policy, but are critical to protecting the Clean Water Act at a time when it remains under attack.
3. Advocate: Strategic regional and community-based advocacy is the most effective tool to turn back the rising tide against the Clean Water Act. Waterkeeper, and our partners, will organize and provide the tools for our coalition to push back against rollbacks to the Clean Water Act, while highlighting the critical need for continued and expanded protections within the Act, the most effective tool we have against water pollution.
While advocating for clean water and healthy communities has been the primary mission of Waterkeeper Alliance since its inception, the Clean Water Act’s 40th Anniversary provides a unique opportunity for Waterkeeper Alliance and partners to focus on the success of the Act thus far, develop and deploy strategies for strengthening the Act and ensure the Act endures for another 40 years and beyond.
Please join us in this effort. Visit Waterkeeper Allaince's website and follow us on Twitter to learn more, or contact Pete Nichols, Western Regional Director of Waterkeeper Alliance at [email protected].
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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