We’re Not As Clean As We Think We Are: The Case For Protecting All Waters

The results of a report published in Nature magazine earlier this month confirms what many of us already know: our waters are in rough shape.  According to the report, 80% of the world’s population faces threatened water security—and that includes Americans. One researcher reacted the same way you might have:

“What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe. Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges.”

38 years after the Clean Water Act, our waters are still in rough shape

Protecting America’s waters requires proper management of the entire watershed.  As the authors report on their website, depending on technology to keep our waters clean isn’t cutting it.

We have to return to the basics—this means, among other things, protecting all waters in a watershed, especially the smaller waters like wetlands, headwaters, and small streams.

Although often overlooked, these smaller bodies of water naturally provide crucial services, they: filter toxins, buffer against storms, store flood waters, and shelter diverse aquatic species. With this impressive list of services, it’s no wonder one researcher stated, “We know it is far more cost effective to protect these water systems in the first place.”

We will depend even more on the functions these waters provide as the effects of climate change unfold.  Climate change will amplify the water cycle.  (The very same water cycle we learned about in elementary school.)  As temperatures increase, more water will evaporate, meaning more water will circulate through the cycle—rainfall events will be more intense and stormwater runoff more plentiful.  Or, as one author said, “Climate manifests itself through water.”

Our tool to protect these smaller waters—the Clean Water Act—has been severely limited in its effectiveness. Two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 reduced the historic scope of the Act, leaving many smaller streams and wetlands vulnerable to pollution and destruction.  Now, it’s up to Congress to restore the historic scope of the 1972 Clean Water Act.

Urge your Senators and Representative to restore Clean Water Act protections for America’s waters and the inhabitants that live and depend on.  Even better, if you catch them on the campaign trail, speak up for wetlands.

This post is part of Blog Action Day, which this year is raising awareness about the need for clean water.