No American should take the Clean Water Act for granted

Rob DriesleinHappy birthday to the Clean Water Act. This important 1972 environmental legislation marked 40 years as federal law on October 18.

Contributing Writer Tori McCormick has a fine piece in the Nov. 2 edition of Outdoor News quoting Gary Botzek, the executive director of the Minnesota Conservation Federation, about the CWA. Back in the early 1970s, the story notes, 60 to 70 percent of America’s lakes, rivers and coastal waters were considered unsafe for swimming and fishing. Fish kills were common, and health concerns over drinking water were increasing.

The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, famously started on fire several times. That’s the world I was born into in 1970.

The Clean Water Act of 1972, which Republican President Richard Nixon signed, changed all that. As Clean Water Act supporters celebrate its 40th anniversary, conservation groups are calling on hunters and anglers to continue to advocate for preserving the nation’s lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. They say such protections go hand-in-hand with the hunting and fishing lifestyle we enjoy in Minnesota. They’re right, and don’t believe anyone who suggests the CWA imposes unnecessary “regulation” that somehow impedes American commerce. This is a good law that provides a better quality of life for all Americans, including those who like to criticize environmental laws.

The Clean Water Act passed Congress overwhelmingly with bipartisan – remember that word? – support. Along with the Endangered Species Act, Lacey Act, and Migratory Bird Treaty Act – not to mention the banning of DDT – the CWA is one of the nation’s keystone environmental laws.

It’s not an accident that Minnesotans see bald eagles and other raptors on a regular basis. It’s not an accident that most lakes and rivers in Minnesota have water suitable for swimming or catching edible fish. It’s not an accident that we’re enjoying a – in my opinion – fun argument about whether to hunt a fully recovered gray wolf population. All these things occurred because citizens and politicians with foresight established laws and regulations that allowed animals, along with water and air quality, to increase and improve in a post-industrial society. Congratulations America!

Yet, as documented in this newspaper, there have been efforts in the recent Congress to limit roll back some of these protections. Per McCormick’s story: the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives recently approved legislation that would turn over CWA enforcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to the states. (That strikes me as about as good an idea as turning FEMA over to the states.) While that House bill has stalled in the Democrat-controlled Senate, conservation officials believe attempts to remake the CWA by some in Congress likely will continue.

“We’ve already had erosions to some of the protections in the Clean Water Act after two Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 that muddied the waters, so to speak,” Botzek said. “What we’re saying is that clean water is good for everyone. It’s not a partisan issue.”

Increasingly, environmental protection is a partisan issue, and that’s too bad, because we all benefit from cleaner rivers, lakes, and fewer fish consumption advisories. To those who whine about environmental regulations killing jobs, Botzek notes a clean environment is as much an economic issue as much as an environmental issue. “Hunting and fishing in Minnesota contribute roughly $4 billion annually to the state’s economy.

We’ve come a long way in 40 years nationwide so make sure your legislator, state and federal, knows hunters and anglers aren’t interested in rolling back the clock on clean water. Think about that when you enter the election booth on Nov. 6.

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