Down and Dirty on the Clean Water Act

After several hours in the hot summer sun baling hay, running a race, or watching your kids or grandkids in your local parade, nothing quite hits the spot like a cool, clean glass of water. Growing up in Wisconsin, I thought our water tasted the best of anywhere I’d ever been. I’m sure you might say the same about the water in a small town you know.

This is why the Center welcomes clarifications to the Clean Water Act – they help keep our water clean.

That great tasting clean water is vital for agriculture, tourism, and the small businesses that drive your town’s economic engine. We have to protect it. If we don’t, people or corporations who don’t live near you and care less than you or I do will have no problem profiting from the pollution. They also profit from the subsequent scramble to find clean water from elsewhere.

So, what does this new and improved Clean Water Act say?

First, it makes clear which bodies of water are regulated under the Clean Water Act. This is important, because who wants to spend lots of time trying to figure out whether you need a permit? The rule clarifies whether you need a permit to change a body of water on your land. Permits helped clean up the water when the Clean Water Act passed (remember the rivers that caught on fire?) and they continue to do so today.

In general, bodies of water that are navigable are covered by the Clean Water Act. So are lakes, streams, ponds, and wetlands that drain into navigable waters. This is true for most seasonal streams as well as waters that exist all year long.

If you are a landowner and work with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), there are over 50 conservation practices that protect or improve water quality. These conservation measures are exempt from needing a permit. If you don’t already work with NRCS, now is a great time to start!

Will the Clean Water Act now regulate groundwater or irrigation ditches? In a word, no. All agricultural exemptions that have existed within the Clean Water Act are still in place.

In the end, the clarifications to the Clean Water Act add about 3 percent more water bodies under its jurisdiction. And it makes sure that if someone pollutes your drinking water, they will face penalties.

Water belongs to all of us. Let’s keep it clean!