By Jenna Stevens, Environment Florida
When it comes to our health and well-being, clean water can never be taken for granted. Floridians rely on clean water to stay safe and healthy. But clean water also is a refuge where we can enjoy Florida’s incredible beauty. This year has made that especially clear.
We are grateful for this resource, but we must remember how we got there. It wasn’t too long ago that waterways across the country were horribly polluted and their water undrinkable. Rivers caught on fire; toxic and unsafe waterways were the standard rather than the exception.
With that in mind, we should celebrate that 48 years ago Congress passed one of America’s most important environmental laws: the Clean Water Act. The law helped turn the page by protecting all of our waters — from the smallest streams to the mightiest rivers — from pollution, degradation and destruction.
In Florida, the Clean Water Act has kept billions of pounds of pollution out of our rivers, which directly benefits our drinking water, public health, recreation and wildlife. Our families have safer places to enjoy the outdoors, whether it’s scuba diving in the Florida Keys, fishing and boating around Florida Bay or exploring the Everglades.
However, the full vision of the Clean Water Act has not yet been realized. Many of our waterways are still polluted. More work must be done to ensure that every waterway is safe and clean. We cannot afford to backtrack on the progress we have made.
But, tragically, all that progress is in jeopardy because the Environmental Protection Agency wants to roll back this bedrock legislation. Specifically, the EPA finalized a new rule in April to replace the Clean Water Rule.
Beyond that, the administration finalized a rule in June that allows it to disregard state and tribal objections about the impacts that large projects — including pipelines and dams — would have on local waters.
How bad is this regressive action? It would put more than a million Floridians, our wildlife and the lands they call home at risk.
The reason: The new “Dirty Water Rule” removes protections from countless streams and wetlands. As a result, many of the waterways that flow into sources of drinking water will be vulnerable to pollution from oil spills, pipelines or runoff from meat farms without so much as a federal fine. The upshot is, drinking water for millions will be at risk.
So, while we commemorate landmark legislation that has improved the lives of so many Americans, we must also fight for its survival.
For Floridians, waterways aren’t partisan, they’re our lifeblood, and despite huge strides in the fight for clean water, that fight is not over. Algal outbreaks and sewage spills are still common, and this summer, we saw pollution cause massive fish kills in Biscayne Bay that devastated marine life and upset people who enjoy the bay.
Dismantling the Clean Water Act at a time when it is clear that our waters call for more protections will only make these problems worse.
Congress must pass the Clean Water for All Act, which would halt the implementation of the Dirty Water Rule and restore protections for wetlands and streams across the state. For the sake of every Floridian, we simply must do more to protect American waters and everyone who relies on them.
Jenna Stevens is state director of Environment Florida.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.