Legislation essential to protect lakes, rivers and streams as well as restore Great Lakes

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Sen. Russ Feingold introduced the Clean Water Restoration Act in the U.S. Senate today, a bill intended to restore historic safeguards to wetlands, lakes and streams in Wisconsin and across the nation. Passage of the legislation is not only important to protect Wisconsin’s inland waters, it is also essential to restoring our Great Lakes.

“With 15,000 lakes, 32,000 miles of perennial streams, 5.3 million acres of wetlands, and 1.2 quadrillion gallons of groundwater, reinstating the Clean Water Act is vital for Wisconsin,” said Melissa Malott, water program director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “By reinstating safeguards that protect our water supply, this legislation protects our state’s economic health as well as the health of our residents.”

When enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) broadly protected “all water in the United States.” Two Supreme Court cases in the early 2000s led to inconsistent interpretations of the law, but essentially ruled that non-navigable, intrastate waters are not protected by the CWA. These decisions have placed millions of acres of so-called “isolated” lakes, streams, and wetlands at risk of losing federal safeguards. The bill introduced today, co-sponsored by Senator Herb Kohl, would ensure these waters receive full federal protection.

“We applaud Sens. Feingold and Kohl for leading the effort to protect these vital waterways,” said Malott. “We hope the Senate and Congress act quickly to restore protections to Wisconsin’s waters. Delay will jeopardize our wetlands, lakes, and streams by leaving them vulnerable to pollution and destruction.”

Passage of the Clean Water Restoration Act is essential to protect and restore wetlands — a core component of the multi-year effort to restore the Great Lakes. Healthy wetlands filter sediment and pollution from water and are essential to keeping Great Lakes water clean. Beyond protecting Great Lakes water, healthy wetlands provide flood protection; prevent erosion; provide habitat for wildlife, waterfowl and fish; and support a multi-billion dollar fishing, hunting, and tourism industry in the Great Lakes states.

“The quick passage of this bill is essential to maintain Wisconsin’s vast water resources, from our bordering big lakes Michigan and Superior, down to the smallest creeks and streams,” said Malott. “The time to act is now.”