Clean Water Act study criticizes Bush

A study released by US House Democrats on the federal Clean Water Act said much has been done to improve water quality over the last 30 years, but decisions of the Bush administration in the last two years are detrimental to clean water.

Representative James L Oberstar, ranking Democratic member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, released the study last week as the Clean Water Act turned 30, WaterTechOnline reports. Oberstar has been a member of the Committee for each re-authorization of the act since he was elected to the House in 1974.

“In 1972, only one-third of the nation’s waters met water quality goals,” the report said. “Today, two-thirds of those waters meet water quality goals. The nation has doubled the waters that meet water quality goals, but it is only one-half of the way there.”

The law “is the main reason the nation’s waterways have shown dramatic improvement in water quality, even as the population has increased by nearly 40%,” the report stated. It has been instrumental in improving the health of rivers, lakes, and coastal waters and stopping billions of pounds of pollution from fouling the water.

“But there is still much work to be done: one-third of our Nation’s waters fail to meet water quality goals first established 30 years ago,” said the report.

The nation now stands at a crossroads in the restoration and protection of its waters and wetlands, the report said. “One path improves upon the successes of the last 30 years and will finally achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act. The other path leads to the very real possibility that progress could be lost. It is a simple question of priorities and commitment.”

The report alleged that the Bush Administration “is pursuing the latter path, in spite of clear warning signs that our progress in cleaning up the nation’s waters may be slipping.”

“The actions – and lack of action – of the Bush Administration on water quality are slowly and steadily undermining the successes of the Clean Water Act,” said the report.

Bush has suspended implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule on Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL), which would have given states an additional tool in addressing the more than 20,000 rivers, lakes, streams, and other water body segments that remain polluted to the point of endangering public health, the report said.

It also accused Bush of providing no leadership on additional efforts needed to control non-point source pollution, the greatest continuing source of impairment to the nation’s waters.

Especially disturbing, the report said, is the opposition of the Bush Administration to bipartisan Congressional efforts to increase federal investment in the nation’s wastewater and drinking water infrastructure.

“As our population grows, we must substantially increase our wastewater and drinking water infrastructure, to maintain and improve the quality of our water,” said the report. “Failure to make the necessary infrastructure investments will lead to a serious deterioration in water quality.”

“Taken as a whole, the 30-year history of the modern Clean Water Act has been a tremendous success. However, now, the United States stands on the threshold of throwing all these successes away, and reverting back to the days of rivers that burn, lakes that are dead, and waterways that are sewers,” said House Democrats.

In a separate story, WaterTechOnline reported that the Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA) also praised the efforts of entities that work to ensure clean water, but warned that the nation’s water quality remains at risk. A key to the success of the Clean Water Act has been a strong federal funding ‘infusion’. With all construction, infrastructure has a finite lifespan, and without a long-term federal re-commitment to clean water the nation risks losing the water quality gains for which it has worked so hard over the past 30 years, says AMSA.

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