PennFuture Blog

Our Perspectives on the Latest Issues

Protect Clean Water in the Keystone State

We all depend on clean water. From communities in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that rely on public drinking water sources, to the 1.1 million anglers who cast their lines into Pennsylvania’s streams each year, to Pennsylvania’s craft brewers and paddlers exploring the Susquehanna, water is life. 

But the programs and policies that keep our waters clean to drink, fish, and swim are currently under attack by attempts to scale back and underfund them.

The Clean Water for All Campaign unites clean water stakeholders to defend and strengthen protections and funding for clean drinking water and healthy waterways in the United States. A key focus of our efforts is defending federal and state Clean Water Act-related programs that safeguard our nation’s water.

Just in time for summer, the Trump Administration has taken several actions that threaten Pennsylvania’s renowned trout streams, wetlands, and drinking water. The Administration has proposed deep cuts to critical Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture water programs that keep our water safe, and set in motion a process to roll back the very scope of the Clean Water Act itself. 

Pennsylvania, with its 86,000 stream miles and Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, and Delaware Basin watersheds, is uniquely situated to gain a multitude of clean water benefits from EPA programs and grants. Unfortunately, this means it has much to lose from the President’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget. The proposal eliminates regional ecosystem restoration programs that help states coordinate efforts to reduce pollution, restore fish and wildlife habitat, and safeguard drinking water in watersheds that cross state boundaries. This means that Pennsylvania would no longer receive federal funding via the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the Chesapeake Bay Program, threatening ongoing efforts to improve the health of these watersheds. 

Pennsylvania also receives EPA funding to help support water monitoring, assessment, and management through Clean Water Act Section 106 grants. In Pennsylvania, this program helps improve water quality in the Delaware River, Ohio River, Susquehanna River, and Potomac River and their many tributaries. Although federal investment is crucial to help Pennsylvania maintain water quality in the rivers and tributaries that provide the state’s drinking water, the budget blueprint proposes to cut this program by one-third.

The budget also eliminates funding for state efforts to control and prevent nonpoint source pollution like agriculture runoff. In 2016, the EPA provided Pennsylvania with roughly $4.6 million for this through Clean Water Act Section 319 grants.

Another target are Pennsylvania’s small rural communities. The budget eliminates USDA’s Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program, which helps improve and maintain drinking water and wastewater infrastructure in rural areas. It also cuts the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, a USDA initiative that provides assistance to agricultural producers to develop and implement conservation practices on their farms.

We all know that water doesn’t respect state boundaries, so without this federal investment it will be much more difficult for states to coordinate clean-up initiatives and it would cripple Pennsylvania’s on-going and future efforts to protect its own waters from pollution. 

Meanwhile, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has taken the first of two steps to roll back Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands in Pennsylvania and nationwide. The Administration’s first step is to repeal the widely-supported Clean Water Rule and replace it with a definition of “waters of the United States” that dramatically rolls back the historic scope of the Clean Water Act.

The 2015 Clean Water Rule helps safeguard small streams and wetlands that flow downstream into larger, iconic waters like the Susquehanna. It restores Clean Water Act protections to headwater, rain-fed, and seasonal streams that serve as drinking water sources for nearly 2 in every 3 Pennsylvanians. It protects thousands of acres of wetlands that provide essential fish and wildlife habitat, including streams where Pennsylvania’s native brook trout naturally reproduce, supporting Pennsylvania’s $700 million freshwater fishing industry. Repealing this common-sense rule could put at least 59% of Pennsylvania’s stream miles at greater risk from pollution and destruction. 

Step two of this attack is replacing the Clean Water Rule with a new rule that would remove protections from waters that have been protected by the Clean Water Act for more than 40 years, relying on a legal test that the majority of the Supreme Court rejected. This rollback threatens clean water interests throughout Pennsylvania. The Administration’s rollback plan provides very little opportunity for public input and contradicts the law and science that is the basis of the Clean Water Act successes since its inception. It also ignores the extensive public record in support of the Clean Water Rule; during the rulemaking process, EPA received more than a million public comments on the rule, 87% of which were supportive.

Whether for drinking, swimming, fishing, paddling, or brewing, we all need clean water. Tell EPA Administrator Pruitt and your members of Congress that you expect them to invest in clean water initiatives and defend the Clean Water Act. Please urge the Administration to withdraw its Clean Water rollback plan. If the Administration considers any potential revisions to the 2015 Clean Water Rule, they must engage in a thoughtful, inclusive, science-based, and legally sound process.

Stay tuned for updates this summer.

Get the Latest onOur PennFuture

Sign up for email updates on the latest news, events, and opportunities to make a difference.

Sign Up