Every American deserves access to clean drinking water—without it we cannot survive. During the COVID-19 pandemic, our obligation to protect clean water is clearer than ever.

This truth is why in 1972, Congress enacted the bipartisan Clean Water Act to protect our nation’s streams and wetlands and keep our water safe. And it’s why in 2020, Clean Wisconsin filed a lawsuit in federal court with other environmental groups to challenge the Trump Administration’s “Dirty Water Rule,” which will wipe out many of these vital protections.

The Clean Water Act was enacted to set limits on pollution in our streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands, because these natural resources perform important functions to protect public health, reduce flooding, provide habitat, and support our local economies. 

Flooding has been a top-of-mind issue for us in Wisconsin in recent years. Each time it rains, I can’t help but think back to the flooding in 2018 that left Dane County and much of the state underwater, and to the billions of dollars damage it caused to communities. It reminds me of the critical function wetlands and small streams play in the health of our water and safety of our communities.

Yet, Trump’s Dirty Water Rule dramatically reduces the bodies of water that are protected under this act. That means streams that provide drinking water for tens of millions of people across the country, wetlands that filter pollution and protect our communities from flooding, and the waters that we fish and swim in would all be exposed to increased levels of pollution.

In Wisconsin, approximately 120,000 miles of ephemeral waters, such as streams, would fall outside federal protections; up to 4 million acres of wetlands statewide wouldn’t be protected under this rule.

By reducing these federal protections, big polluters will be allowed to contaminate our water sources with little to no accountability. While special treatment is being doled out to corporate interests, the rest of us are forced to live with the consequences to our health.

Streams infographic

Already, too many communities in Wisconsin lack access to safe and reliable drinking water due to PFAS pollution, lead pipes, and nitrate contamination. Trump’s Dirty Water Rule will only make the challenges of securing access to clean drinking water more difficult—and it jeopardizes clean drinking water many people already have.

Especially in the middle of a public health crisis, we should be doing more to keep our water resources protected and safe, not less.

wetlands infographic

Not only is clean water essential to our health and well-being, it is also an essential part of our economy. Outdoor recreation is a major economic driver, generating $200 billion annually. Activities like hiking, fishing, and hunting rely on access to clean water. Now more than ever, people are turning to the outdoors to provide space for rejuvenation during these uncertain times. Rural communities depend on the money brought in during these seasons to keep their economy afloat for the rest of the year. The Dirty Water Rule will put all of this at risk.

Our health, well-being, and livelihoods depend on access to clean water. At Clean Wisconsin, we’re committed to stopping the Dirty Water Rule and ensuring that our communities in Wisconsin and around the nation have access to the clean water we deserve.

Originally published as an op-ed in the Cap Times, May 2020.