Making waves to protect America's waters
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No matter whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, live in a coastal state or the heartland, clean water is the foundation of a healthy life. Polluted water can make anyone sick, regardless of race, religion, political affiliation or any of the other demographic categories that far too often are used to divide us rather than unite us. That’s why a 2016 Gallup poll showed that 61 percent of those polled, including 48 percent of Republicans, were worried “a great deal” about the pollution of drinking water. A more recent poll showed that pollution of our rivers and drinking water ranked 2nd and third among Americans’ fears -- only surpassed by concerns about “corrupt government officials.”

Congress has offered bipartisan support for water-related legislation for nearly half a century, since the Clean Water Act first took effect in 1972. But our water is in danger. Over the past three years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed and even championed regulatory rollbacks that would dilute the Clean Water Act and other protections.

Now, a new congressional resolution proposed by Reps. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellPelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation | Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards | EPA watchdog may probe agency's response to California water issues Automakers fight effort to freeze fuel efficiency standards MORE (D-Mich.) and Chris PappasChristopher (Chris) Charles PappasGun control group rolls out House endorsements Progressives raise alarm over letting lobbying groups access PPP funds Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary MORE (D-N.H.) gives voters a clear opportunity to see if their elected representatives will stand up for the water they drink. The resolution explicitly condemns eight separate EPA initiatives that would make our water less safe. Unless someone stops the EPA from instituting and following through on these new policies, Americans can expect:

  • Dirtier drinking water. The administration has repealed the Clean Water Rule, which restored federal protections to streams that help provide potable water to 117 million Americans. The next step? Narrowing the scope of waters protected by the Clean Water Act to the smallest number in its 47-year history.
  • More toxic metals and other pollutants emitted from power plants. The EPA is moving to weaken the 2015 steam electric effluent guideline rule that would reduce pollution by 1.4 billion pounds per year.
  • More coal ash seeping into our waterways or overflowing in major spills

With that in mind, here’s an opportunity for your elected representatives to make their views clear. Are they for protecting the water in your district? Or are they not?

Often, politicians who oppose clean water regulations cite economic considerations. But you can’t drink money, and voters know it. Another poll from Gallup, this one from 2019, showed that by an overwhelming 65 percent-30 percent margin, Americans say environmental protection should take precedence over economic growth when the two goals conflict.

And there are economic consequences when we turn a blind eye to or allow water pollution. According to a 2017 report cited by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 477,000 Americans infected by 13 illnesses often acquired through dirty water had to spend $3.8 billion on hospital bills. And you can’t put a dollar amount on the worst repercussions. Nearly 7,000 Americans die each year from those same 13 usually water-borne pathogens. Those staggering numbers don’t even account for the total consequences. The CDC says that those estimates don’t include all germs that could potentially be spread via water nor do they include less severe illnesses that didn’t result in an ER visit or death. And yet, the EPA is talking about allowing treatment plants to dump more sewage into our waterways? That is plain nuts.

That’s why the new water safety resolution should transcend partisan politics. And that’s why business owners, elected officials, professors, indigenous community leaders and clean water advocates from more than a dozen states have traveled to Washington this week to talk with their representatives about the threats to waterways back in their home districts. Americans’ views on the matter are as clear as a mountain lake: It’s time for Congress to protect U.S. waterways.

John Rumpler is the senior director of Environment America's Clean Water for America campaign.