Protect our rivers and streams

Kim Stevens
Clean water campaign manager, Environment Colorado
Kim Stevens
Staff Photo |

As Colorado is starting to feel like summer, we welcome the warm weather by planning rafting, paddling and fishing trips.

Our rivers and streams also help make our local kayak shops, outdoor outfitters and brewers thrive. What’s more, 3,772,743 of us in the region rely on Colorado’s rivers for clean drinking water.

Our rivers and lakes are essential to our quality of life. We should be doing everything we can to protect them. A few weeks ago, the EPA took a giant step in that direction.

The Clean Water Rule, signed on May 27, will restore Clean Water Act protections to 73,034 miles of Colorado’s streams — waters that help feed the Colorado River and Boulder Creek and help provide drinking water to nearly 3.8 million Coloradans.

All told, the rule will protect the drinking water for one in three Americans, and represents the biggest step forward for clean water in more than a decade.

It’s been a long time in the making. Because of a loophole created by a pair of polluter-driven lawsuits that went all the way to the Supreme Court, 20 million acres of wetlands across the country — along with too many of the small streams that feed the Colorado River — have lacked guaranteed coverage under the Clean Water Act for years.

That means the rivers that Blue Sky Adventures rafts down are still at risk for pollution until the rule passes. All too often, coal companies dump their waste from mining into the rivers throughout the mountains that are so important to where Blue Sky runs its business. Meat processing plants could dump into the Roaring Fork River just south of Aspen, and the feds couldn’t stop them. In fact, according to an analysis by the New York Times, over a four-year period following the court decisions, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had to drop 1,500 cases against polluters who were dumping into or otherwise harming these waters.

Following years of advocacy from Environment Colorado and our allies, in March of last year, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed the Clean Water Rule to close the loophole once and for all. A broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, mayors and small businesses have endorsed the measure. Last fall 33,499 Coloradans joined Americans across the country to submit more than 800,000 comments in its favor.

We wish that were the whole story.

Agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, developers and other polluters have waged a bitter campaign to keep the status quo. Their allies in Congress are working hard to assist them. The U.S. House has voted to block the Clean Water Rule multiple times; most recently, a Senate committee voted to pass a bill that will stop the Clean Water Rule.

A few weeks ago, President Obama took the single biggest step forward for clean water in more than a decade. This week, we’ll need Sen. Bennet to continue his strong environmental leadership so that all of Colorado’s rivers and streams remain protected by the Clean Water Act.

This column is co-signed with Geoff Olson with Blue Sky Adventures. Support the Clean Water Rule, with Environment Colorado [], the statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for a greener, cleaner, healthier future.

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