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Anniversary marks advances in conservation

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Wetlands remain under threat despite legislation

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – June 22, 2009 – Today Ducks Unlimited marked the 40th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River catching on fire on June 22, 1969 due to intense pollution. The monumental incident was instrumental in channeling Congress’s actions towards passing the Clean Water Act just three years later. Since the passing of the Clean Water Act, many of the nation’s waterways are now in much better shape – but not all is healthy with our nation’s waters.

“The Clean Water Act set the stage for important gains in water quality, slowing the loss of wetlands, and reducing point-sources of pollution,” said Gildo Tori, DU’s Director of Public Policy in the Great Lakes/Atlantic Office. “However, even though we’ve come a long way on this journey, a couple of recent wrong turns have once again put our nation’s waters at risk.” Tori is referring to the Supreme Court SWANCC and Rapanos decisions and subsequent administrative guidance that have put 60 percent of the streams and an estimated 20 million acres of wetlands in jeopardy.

Ohio has lost 90% of its wetlands, second worst in the nation, and under the new federal rules at least 45 percent of Ohio streams are considered “intermittent” and no longer federally protected. Approximately 3.5 million Ohioans, or 30 percent of the population, get their drinking water from these areas. Wetlands and other key waters provide ecological goods and services that benefit all Ohioans and people in other states, such as storing flood waters, recharging ground water, providing fish and wildlife habitat, filtering contaminants and sediments, and providing safe and healthy drinking water. Problems with our state’s waters are evident in Lake Erie’s dead zone, recent severe flooding in Findlay and Huron, and drinking water contamination in Columbus.

Ducks Unlimited and many other conservation groups have been working to fix the Clean Water Act, and were rewarded with a first stage victory as a compromise amendment of the Clean Water Restoration Act (CWRA: S. 787) passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by a vote of 12 to 7 along party lines. Ohio Senator George Voinovich voted against the compromise CWRA amendment, but yet today is commemorating the accomplishments of the Clean Water Act along the Cuyahoga River.

“We’re hoping that the Senator, who usually is a great champion of the Great Lakes and clean water, will vote in support of the Clean Water Restoration Act when it comes before the full Senate,” added Tori. “Americans support clean water, and we all need it at home, on the farm, at our businesses, and for our economy overall.

The compromise CWRA bill only goes as far as restoring Congress’ intentions and puts things back the way they were before the 2001 and 20006 court cases introduced significant confusion. No new “controls” or regulations would be placed on landowners – the exemption for normal agricultural operations remains intact, and is even clarified to not include prior converted cropland. The compromise bill very explicitly protects the ability of farmers and ranchers to conduct their business, and as a result received the support of the National Farmers Union.

Tori concluded “If the compromise CWRA bill is not passed, then the successes we are celebrating today along the Cuyahoga River will eventually be reversed. We need to encourage our elected officials to pass this legislation if our waters are to be swimmable, fishable, and safe to drink, and all of us – conservationists, farmers, businessmen and our economy - reap the benefit of clean and abundant healthy waters.”

With more than a million supporters, Ducks Unlimited is the world’s largest and most effective wetland and waterfowl conservation organization, with almost 12 million acres conserved. The United States has lost more than half of its original wetlands—nature’s most productive ecosystem—and continues to lose more than 80,000 acres each year.

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Kristin Schrader 734.623.2000 kschrader@ducks.org

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