Streams and wetlands in Minnesota are at risk of unlimited pollution, according to a report posted today by Environment Minnesota, Courting Disaster: How the Supreme Court Has Broken the Clean Water Act and Why Congress Must Fix It. Minnesota case studies highlighted in this report include Boyer and Bah Lakes in western MN that are at risk of losing Clean Water Act protections. The report also provides 30 case studies demonstrating how the federal Clean Water Act is broken. Environment Minnesota is calling on Minnesota's Congressional Delegation to fix it. The group is particularly focused on working with Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Oberstar and Representative Walz who also serves on the committee. Introducing and passing the bill through this committee is the first important step this year towards repairing the Clean Water Act.
“Polluters are trying to break open the floodgates to dumping unlimited pollution into Minnesota's waterways,” said Samantha Chadwick, an Associate with Environment Minnesota. “Representative Walz must shut the door on dirty special interests and protect Minnesota lakes and all our waters.”
“Recent rollbacks to the Clean Water Act have swept away 30 years of protection for some of Minnesota’s most important waters and waterways across the country,” said Chadwick. “Polluters have been given a green light to ignore the Clean Water Act, even when it may destroy a stream or affect our drinking water supplies.”
The case studies in the report indicate that streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and other waters across the nation are now more vulnerable to pollution and destruction. These cases provide examples of the estimated 15,000 water bodies that federal agencies have declared unprotected in the last eight years. The report is largely based on information obtained through district offices of the Army Corps of Engineers, or from Corps headquarters, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Justice.
The case studies include:
Bah Lake, in Minnesota, that is at risk of losing Clean Water Act protections.
• Bah Lake is popular for canoeing, as well as bird watching, cross country skiing, hiking, hunting, and snow shoeing. Bah Lakes is a popular tourist area, hosting several resorts, hotels, and campgrounds nearby. A similar attraction for outdoor tourism, especially fishing, is Boyer Lake.
• Unfortunately, the local Army Corps of Engineers ruled that Bah and Boyer lakes are "isolated, non jurisdictional water with no substantial connection to interstate (or foreign) commerce." which took away Clean Water Act protection for nearly 400 acres of lake area.
• Thankfully, this decision was ultimately overturned by officials from the Corps and EPA headquarters, they ruled that Bah and Boyer Lakes should still be protected by the Clean Water Act.
• However, the local Corps has refused to join in that decision to keep the lakes protected, so while for now the lakes remain protected, the case shows the precarious position of many of Minnesota's waterways.
"Our '10,000 Lakes' are part of what makes Minnesota a great place to live, work and play" said Chadwick. "People travel from across the state and the region to canoe or boat, swim and fish in our lakes. But our lakes are only as pure as the streams that feed them and the wetlands that help keep them clean. Right now our streams and wetlands remain vulnerable to encroaching development and unregulated pollution. In order to protect Minnesota’s lakes now and for future generations we must make sure that that the wetlands and rivers that flow into the lakes are once again clearly protected."
Environment Minnesota emphasized that pollution of headwater streams and wetlands leads to greater pollution and flooding for downstream communities.
The EPA has estimated that some 20 million acres of wetlands in the continental United States may lose federal protection because of the rollbacks to the Clean Water Act. In addition, tens of thousands of miles of seasonal and headwater streams, and countless numbers of small lakes, and ponds could be left without federal protection from water pollution.
In June, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee passed a bill, the Clean Water Restoration Act, which would restore the Clean Water Act. Now it is up to the House Transportation and Infrastructure committee to take up a similar bill.
Chadwick concluded, "We thank Senator Klobuchar for voting for the Clean Water Restoration Act and getting us steps closer to finally restoring the Clean Water Act. Now it’s up to Chairman Oberstar and Representative Walz to protect all of our lakes, rivers and streams from pollution this year.”