EPA: The economy and protecting water are connected more than you think

October 17, 2014

Comment period for Waters of the US Rulemaking was extended until Nov. 14

October 15, 2014

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Clean water drives Colorado tourism and business — Taylor Edrington

October 14, 2014
The Holy Cross Mountains from the air with fall colors in the foreground via Summit County Citizens Voice

The Holy Cross Mountains from the air with fall colors in the foreground via Summit County Citizens Voice

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Taylor Edrington):

There truly is no better feeling than stepping into a beautiful, high-mountain stream or river in Colorado on a quest to fool one of its inhabiting trout. It’s a surreal surrounding — with the crisp, clean air, the clean, cool water and the rugged landscapes that make up our playground as an angler in Colorado. I have been exploring Colorado’s backcountry fly fishing opportunities my entire life, and have made it my mission to help other outdoor enthusiasts experience Colorado’s phenomenal trout streams.

As a Colorado business owner, and as a sportsman, exploring Colorado’s Gold Medal trout streams and all they offer is priceless. However, these bodies of water are at an increased risk because of confusing decisions from the Supreme Court about the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

Fortunately, there is a rule being proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers that clears the muddied waters and ensures we have rules in place to protect the waters that supply drinking water to nearly three out of four Coloradans. These agencies are in the process of taking input from the public right now on how to improve the Clean Water Act.

I support the efforts to clarify the Clean Water Act because I’ve seen firsthand that healthy headwaters and streams — and our outdoor way of life — depend on clean water. For sportsmen, this proposed rule is critical. In addition to reducing flooding, filtering pollution, and recharging underground aquifers, clean, productive wetlands and headwater streams here in Colorado provide essential habitat for fish and wildlife.

Beyond inspiring aesthetics, outdoor recreation is also big business, contributing over $686 billion to our national economy annually. Here in Colorado, hunting and fishing alone is a $1.5 billion industry, contributing $150 million in state and local taxes each year and employing nearly 19,000 Coloradans. That means this rule also matters to our economy.

Recently I was guiding a group from Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada, on my home water —the Upper Arkansas River in Bighorn Sheep Canyon. We enjoyed a typical day on Colorado’s longest Gold Medal River — plenty of fish to the net, beautiful surroundings, the sounds, the smells, the essential Colorado fly fishing experience. During the day we discussed the recent Mount Polley disaster near their hometown.

The Mount Polley Mine tailings pond dam breached in that crisis, releasing 17 million cubic meters of slurry into the local watersheds. This disaster destroyed all watershed habitats in the nearby area, drinking water sources and much more.

While we were discussing the tragedy, I realized that all too often we take clean water for granted. Properly managing our watersheds requires vigilance, and it starts with a restored Clean Water Act.

Yet, instead of working for clean water, some members of Congress are actively trying to scuttle the EPA’s and Army Corps’deliberative process. I urge our U.S. senators to stand up for the 10,000 miles of streams and 2,000 lakes we have in Colorado that are at risk.

I personally spend countless hours fly fishing throughout Colorado. My business depends on the great resources this state has to offer. Restoring the Clean Water Act is the right thing to do, to protect what we have.

Taylor Edrington is the owner and president of Royal Gorge Anglers Inc., in Canon City.

Hunters and Anglers Need a Restored Clean Water Act — Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, et. al.

October 13, 2014

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

EPA grab for water power ? Not so, says Rocky Mountain Farmers Union — Mountain Town News

October 13, 2014
Summitville Mine superfund site

Summitville Mine superfund site

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

The Environmental Protection Agency proposes to tidy up currently ambiguous definitions of what waters are covered under the Clean Water Act. There’s some pushback in the hinterland from the American Farm Bureau, which usually aligns with Republicans, and others.

“Opponents say the rules are a power grab that could stifle economic growth and intrude on property owners’ rights,” reported the New York Times in a March story.

In Colorado, U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton told the Durango Herald in September that it was a “water grab” by the EPA. “This is straightforward: You either want to protect the private-property rights of water in Colorado and protect our state law or you don’t,” Tipton said.

The Farmers Union doesn’t see it that way. It traditionally aligns with Democrats and stronger environmental protections. This is no exception. To that end, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union on Thursday morning held a session in Denver designed to both provide explanation from the EPA and to affirm more broadly the support of the Farmers Union for the role of the federal government in ensuring clean water.

Bill Midcap, director of external affairs for RMFU, set the tone in his introduction. He noted that when growing up north of Fort Morgan, he had learned to swim in the Riverside ditch that served his family farm. In that same ditch, he taught his children how to swim, he said.

He went on to say that he wouldn’t go swimming in the ditch now. The connection to the EPA proposed new rules wasn’t clear, although the insinuation was that water quality has worsened—and needs corrective action.

Further testimony came from Alphonso Abeyta, who is 76 and is a fifth-generation farmer and rancher in the San Luis Valley. He’s southwest of Antonito at about 8,000 feet in elevation, he said.

He told several stories about water quality. One was a plan by the U.S. Department of Energy to transfer contaminated soil from the Los Alamos National Energy Laboratory onto a train siding at Antonio, just 100 feet from a tributary to the Rio Grande. It took some backbone, but the locals blocked the transfer and the risk of contamination water.

“Well, we stopped the Department of Energy from shipping waste from our little town,” he said.

But in another case, the locals got stung – and they’re still stung. That’s a result of the famous Summitville mining fiasco in the 1980s, which resulted in costly pollution of the Alamosa River.

“How can we have organic food when we use water that killed all those fish?” he asked. “Today, we still don’t have fish in that stream. That’s where life begins, at the headwaters.”

If none of these stories spoke directly to the proposed regulations, the background message was again clear: Protecting water quality is important.

The RMFU position is clearly articulated as “common-sense guidance” that “protects clean water for our farms and families, and provides greater certainty for landowners.”

The Clean Water Act is complex and comprehensive, as one speaker described it. Adopted by Congress in 1972 and signed into law by President Richard Nixon, it took several years for the the EPA to formulate the rules and regulations to execute Congressional intent.

Shaun McGrath, the administrator of the six-states EPA region headquartered in Denver, said that the EPA analyzed more than 1,000 scientific studies in creating the proposed rules. The public comment period ends Nov. 14.

The fundamental problem is that the original rules left some questions of what waters are covered by the Clean Water Act. The EPA concluded in the 1970s that Congress intended a broad definition of what “waters of the United States” were to be covered under the law, and courts have upheld this broad definition. But there were some areas of lingering uncertainty, and the U.S. Supreme Court has muddled the waters with its decisions.

One key area of uncertainty is what exactly constitutes “uplands,” which are undefined in current rules, and what water located above ordinary high-water mark for a river or stream would be covered.

In a detailed explanation of the existing and proposed rules, the EPA’s Karen Hamilton emphasized that the proposed rules would not expand areas to be covered to include floodplains and riparian areas.

However, ponds located above the ordinary high-water mark would be specifically come under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act under the new rules.

Groundwater would remain exempt, although the current rules recognize some connection between groundwater and flows of navigable rivers. See much, much more at the EPA website.

A dozen or so farmers and ranchers were at the meeting, coming from diverse parts of the Eastern Slope. The questions they asked suggested agreement with Midcap’s opening statement that, if anything, the EPA doesn’t go far enough in ensuring clean water.

One question revealed a fundamental mistrust of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. The proposed rules do not venture into fracking.

Abeyeta, in a video produced by RMFU, summarized the story well. “Farmers know that everything is connected,” he said. “Snow from the mountains feed the streams, the streams feed the rivers, the rivers feed us. You can’t grow food without water. You can’t live without water.”

For a more in-depth sorting out of the issues, the EPA goes very, very deep. The Durango Herald story is modestly deep, as is a story from High Country News in June. But for a Republican perspective see the essay by U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana. In this posting on The Hill, he calls the proposed rules the “granddaddy of EPA abuse of the Clean Water Act.” However, the Los Angeles Times thought the rules sensible.

Footnotes: This correspondent’s grandparents lived along the Riverside Ditch north of Fort Morgan, maybe two miles from where Midcap grew up and farmed. Abeyeta’s son, Aaron, is a modestly famous poet who just released a new book called “Letters from the Headwaters.” Aaron Abeyeta is also the mayor of Antonito and the high school football coach.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Video: Farmer from Colorado Supports Clean Water — Rocky Mountain Farmers Union

October 10, 2014

Here’s the release from the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union:

In advance of the October 18 anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) today released a new video in support of the proposed Waters of the U.S. clean water rule. The video stars fifth-generation San Luis Valley rancher and farmer Alfonso Abeyta, and uses with permission of the band R.E.M., their song, “Cuyahoga,” about the Ohio river that caught fire (although not the first time) in 1969. The fire and subsequent Time magazine coverage motivated Congress to pass the Clean Water Act in 1972.

“That’s why it puzzles me when some politicians in Washington don’t want to protect America’s streams and wetlands,” Abeyta says in the video. “You can’t grow food without water. You can’t live without water. Without water, nothing survives. I’m not thinking about myself; I’m thinking about my grandkids. I want them to be healthy and have clean water like I had growing up. I think it’s our job to protect it.”

R.E.M. is well-known for its leadership on clean water and countless environmental issues, so it is no surprise that the group authorized the use of its poignant song in this powerful PSA.

“This common-sense guidance protects clean water for our farms and families, and provides greater certainty for landowners,” said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union President and farmer Kent Peppler. “The White House should finalize the clean water rule.”

Approximately 117 million people – one in three Americans – get drinking water from public systems that rely on seasonal, rain-dependent, and headwater streams, which would be protected by the clean water rule. The RMFU video is being shared through social media including Facebook (Rocky Mountain Farmers Union) and Twitter (@RMFUnion), with policy-makers directly, and is available online at http://rmfu.org.

The public comment period for the clean water rule closes November 14th, 2014.

More Environmental Protection Agency coverage here.

Roan Plateau: Settlement on the horizon?

October 8, 2014


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