Drinking Water for Third of U.S. in Legal Tug-Of-War

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For Immediate Release: Oct 01, 2018
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

Drinking Water for Third of U.S. in Legal Tug-Of-War

On-Again Off-Again Clean Water Rule Protects Both Water Quality and Quantity

Washington, DC —The source for drinking water to one in three Americans depends on streams and wetlands that will lose Clean Water Act protections under Trump administration plans, according to figures released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The estimates are from a detailed state-by-state analysis conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

At issue is the 2015 Obama Clean Water Rule that extends legal protections to thousands of intermittent, ephemeral, and headwater streams, and their associated wetlands. These streams play a crucial role in ensuring a continuous flow of water to downstream freshwater ecosystems. If these small streams and wetlands are filled, downstream waters will be adversely affected and even cause some wells to run dry.

In 2017, President Trump ordered EPA to repeal the Clean Water Rule. Last month, a federal judge reinstated the Clean Water Rule in 26 states but this month federal judges stayed the rule in four of them, leaving 22 states where it is in effect, including California, Michigan, New York, and Ohio.

The EPA analysis obtained by PEER, first done in 2005 and updated in 2009, indicates that in the lower 48 states –

  • More than one-third (36%) of the U.S. population, 117,447,743 people, drink water from public drinking water systems using surface water that relies on intermittent, ephemeral and headwater streams.
  • The August ruling reinstating the Clean Water Rule in 22 states benefited nearly 65 million peoplein the lower 48 states, leaving 52 million with legally vulnerable drinking water sources; and
  • Nationwide, some 200,000 miles of streams are at risk of losing federal protection if the Clean Water Rule is repealed, negatively impacting 55% of New York streams, 60% of Ohio, streams and 57% of Oregon streams in drinking water source protection areas (all states where the Clean Water Rule was reinstated in August).

“Trump’s rollbacks threaten the security of the nation’s drinking water,” stated PEER Science Policy Director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with EPA, noting that every modern American president until Trump has proclaimed the value of preserving wetlands, intermittent and ephemeral streams. “These small waterbodies act as nature’s kidneys, trapping sediment, absorbing and converting excess nutrients.”

In assessing the scope of the Clean Water Rule, EPA scientists assembled data identifying public surface drinking water systems dependent on intermittent, headwater, and ephemeral streams in the lower 48 states. The EPA data are sorted by state and county.

“This breakdown allows people to see the effects, not just in their neighborhood but in their own faucets,”Bennett added. “These are the hard facts that EPA cannot now ignore.”


See state-by-state summary of affected streams and wetlands

Look at county-specific breakdown of impacts

Read EPA methodological description

Examine EPA’s contortions in attempt to repeal Clean Water Rule

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