On April 20th a massive fire broke out on BP’s Deepwater Horizon deepwater drilling rig and caused the rig to sink to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. As a result, the riser pipe to the rig from the ocean floor broke in a number of places and began spewing crude oil into the Gulf at an alarming rate. Initial estimates put the amount of oil spilling in to the Gulf at 210,000 gallons per day, but more recent estimates have bumped that number up to anywhere between 500,000 and over a million gallons of oil every day. The spill is now the largest in the history of the United States, well surpassing the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. For the past few weeks BP has attempted to stop the flow of oil from the well but have been unsuccessful. As a result of the spill, dolphins have washed up dead. Endangered sea turtles have been found with oil stuck on their corneas. Lifeless brown pelicans, classified as endangered until recently, have been carried away in plastic bags. Beaches in Grand Isle, Louisiana, are spattered with gobs of sticky crude. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of what promises to be an ecological catastrophe that will affect the Gulf region for years to come.
Issues & Actions
Coastal waters are inundated by a wave of land-based pollution. Pathogens (such as bacteria), toxic chemicals, nitrogen, and other contaminants that are dumped into coastal waters as a result of rampant development, agriculture and forestry practices, storm drains, malfunctioning septic systems, overburdened sewage treatment plants, and other sources. These sources pollute the nation’s beach waters and threatening the health of our coasts.
CWN’s coastal advocates work to protect coasts by working on the Coastal Nonpoint Source Pollution Control Program (also known as the Coastal Runoff Program), on implementing the law in order to improve beach water quality and protect public health, and estuary related issues.
Although the Clean Water Act has greatly improved water quality over the last 30 years, enforcement of the Act is often weak and sporadic.
Every American has a right to clean, safe water for drinking, swimming, and fishing. When the Clean Water Act is not enforced, then citizens rights are denied. Weak and inconsistent enforcement creates an uneven playing field by unfairly placing law-abiding companies at a competitive disadvantage with those companies that illegally pollute.
CWN’s enforcement activists work to pass legislation that leads to stronger enforcement of the Clean Water Act and to implement the existing law.
More than 30 years after the Clean Water Act promised clean water, an overwhelming majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a polluted river, lake, or coastal water. These waterways are unsafe for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life.
Luckily, the Clean Water Act’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program offers a solution. The program requires that states and EPA identify rivers, lakes and coastal waters that remain polluted and then develop a cleanup plan for each waterbody.
Each time it rains, water runs off the land and picks up toxic pesticides and fertilizers from farm fields and lawns, heavy metals and oils from cars and trucks, manure from animal feedlots, poisonous chemicals and metals from mining sites, and sediment from construction sites, farms and timber operations. This polluted runoff carries the contaminants into our drinking, fishing, and swimming waters.
In January 2003 the Bush administration announced an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) and released a policy directive (or guidance) designed to limit the scope of the Clean Water Act and leave many streams and wetlands without federal safeguards against pollution and destruction. U.S. EPA estimates that the policy directive impacts protection for 20 million acres of wetlands and other waters. This is the most serious assault on clean water in decades.
In December 2003, the administration dropped plans to conduct a rulemaking to limit the scope of the Act. The threat to our nation's waters, however, remains as long as the policy directive on Clean Water Act jurisdiction is still in effect.
The guidance tells Army Corps and EPA staff NOT to enforce federal clean water authority without first getting permission from agency headquarters. The policy guidance is being used to destroy many wetlands, ponds and streams around the country. Our nation's waters will not be protected until the policy directive is withdrawn and the administration commits itself to enforcing the Clean Water Act to the full extent of the law.
The Clean Water Act invested billions of dollars in sewage treatment. That investment has paid off, but work remains to be done and funding for infrastructure and maintenance must be secured.
In addition to general infrastructure, three sewer issues are of particular concern: sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows, and sewage sludge.
Water Quality Standards are a critical part of working towards the goal of fishable/swimmable waters in the United States. Network members are active in writing and submitting comments on the water quality standards regulations and in defending their water quality standards from attacks.
Wetlands are a vital line of defense in protecting water quality from polluted runoff. Wetlands are invaluable because they clean our drinking water, help filter pollution out of our waterways, protect out communities from floods, and sustain fish and wildlife.
CWN members work to make sure Congress and the Administration keep their word to protect the nation’s remaining natural wetlands. This includes fending off attacks on current wetlands programs, ensuring new legislation is protective of wetlands, and keeping pressure on the Administration to fix the holes in their wetlands protection programs.