Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
HARRISBURG, Pa. – Some very important bodies of water in Pennsylvania are being left unprotected because of loopholes in the Clean Water Act.
Ed Perry, Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, says the gaps in protection have come about as a result of court rulings and agency decisions under the George W. Bush administration that excluded many waters from protection and placed unnecessarily high hurdles to protecting others.
Perry says the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers are proposing a rule to fix that loophole.
"What the rule does is to restore protection for these small headwater streams that often flow only after a rain event," Perry says.
And, he adds those streams, while small, are crucial to protecting water quality and provide clean cold water to downstream fisheries.
The loophole, which took effect in 2003, eliminated protection for nearly 60 percent of Pennsylvania's wetlands and left over 45,000 miles of small, headwater streams in Pennsylvania unprotected.
Perry says when added up, the scope of water affected in Pennsylvania is massive.
"There's 80,000 stream miles in Pennsylvania, and over half of those are considered to be headwater streams," he points out.
Perry says the loophole essentially took us back to the days when we only regulated pollution pouring into large rivers and ignored pollution in the headwaters, which is why so many water bodies were unfishable or unsafe for swimming.
He says the rule being proposed specifically excludes many man-made ditches, ponds and irrigation systems and honors the law's current exemptions for normal farming, ranching and forestry practices.