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EPA may clarify Clean Water Act, include streams under protection

By Katie Demeria

The Environmental Protection Agency recently proposed a ruling that would clarify the inclusion of streams and wetlands leading to larger waterways throughout the nation under the Clean Water Act.

This move, according to Kimberly Williams of Environment Virginia, "could be the biggest victory on clean water in a decade."

The ruling was made jointly with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineering. It would effectively close loopholes created by court rulings, clarifying that streams and other waterways with a significant nexus between it and jurisdictional waters are included in Clean Water Act protections.

Shenandoah Riverkeeper Jeff Kelble said the clarification is needed.

"It's really re-clarifying; it used to be clear until the Supreme Court muddled it -- they really muddled the clarity," Kelble said.

Kelble and Leslie Mitchell, executive director of the Friends of the North Fork, both said this is an important step in ensuring pollution does not make its way from those streams to the larger waterways.

"We're certainly very happy that there's going to be more clarity around the issue, because that allows the Clean Water Act to actually work," Mitchell said.

According to a news release, Environment Virginia is especially eager for the clarification because those smaller streams feed the rivers that are ultimately used for drinking water.

Williams said the drinking water of more than 2 million Virginians could be impacted by pollution. More than 38,000 miles of streams in Virginia and Maryland would again be included under the Clean Water Act without dispute.

Kelble said clarifying the jurisdiction is something that's really important to society.

"It's not debated that small streams make up the big streams, and the big streams make up the river -- this is where we get all our water," Kelble said. "Any time the agency can clarify jurisdiction is important."

Virginia retained control over its streams and rivers and was not directly impacted when court rulings muddled the Clean Water Act's jurisdictions, according to Kelble. So right now, adjusting the law may not have an immediate impact on Virginia's streams.

But he added that any overarching federal law to support these kinds of issues is important.

According to Environment Virginia, the first step in protecting major waterways like the Shenandoah River, along with the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River, is ensuring the smaller streams are protected as well.

Mitchell said that, "ultimately, it's the lifeblood of everyone that depends on the water, including ourselves, the fish, the deer, all the wildlife.

"We all depend on the water being clean and able to be used. At least 40,000 people use the North Fork -- they want to be able to use their water," she said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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