Melanie Houston, Managing Director of Water Policy & Chief of Organizational Planning, October 20, 2020
This month, the OEC joins coalition partners across the country in celebrating the 48th anniversary of the Clean Water Act (CWA). Thanks to the CWA we’ve made great progress in improving water quality across the nation’s lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, and coastal areas. In Ohio, we went from a Cuyahoga River on fire to seeing our urban rivers populated with kayakers and abundant wildlife such as blue herons, turtles, fish, and mussels.
Indeed, we’ve made great progress since the passage of the CWA in 1972, yet Ohio still faces many water quality challenges both legacy and emerging. From lead in our drinking water pipes to agricultural and nutrient pollution to emerging contaminants like PFAS and microplastic pollution, we have work to do. We also face aging and crumbling water infrastructure. In fact, Ohio has a $27 billion need for water infrastructure upgrades over the next 20 years.
So to celebrate the 48th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, we’re calling on each of you to join us in the continued fight for clean water.
This work starts with a very simple step, which is to get to know your own drinking water source. You can do this by visiting your water utility’s website. Start poking around on the website and learning about where your water comes from, how it gets to you and how it is treated. It could be that the water flowing from your tap originates from groundwater, a river or a reservoir, or some combination of ground and surface waters. By knowing where your water comes from, you will be better armed with the knowledge needed to protect that source of water. And if you get really drawn in, take a look at your water utility’s annual consumer confidence report. In this report, you can read about the water treatment process and also see what trace amounts of contaminants that are in the water and what the source of those contaminants are.
The second thing you can do on the birthday of the CWA is to fight back on the Trump administration’s Dirty Water Rule. The Dirty Water Rule is the most extreme rollback of protections for streams and wetlands in the history of the Clean Water Act. It would wipe out protections for streams that provide drinking water to tens of millions of people and wetlands that filter pollution and protect our communities from flooding.
You can join us in taking a stand against this rule by reaching out to your congressional member to ask that they co-sponsor the Clean Water for All Act (H.R. 6745). Currently, only three out of sixteen of Ohio’s congressional members have signed on to co-sponsor the CW4A Act, which would repeal the administration’s reckless Dirty Water Rule and direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to propose a new rule, based on the best available science, to restore Clean Water Act protections to small streams and wetlands.
Many Ohioans rely on seasonal streams, which flow into larger bodies of water, as their sources of drinking water. Without protection, these critical waterways and water bodies and the filtering benefits that they provide could be destroyed.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, celebrate the CWA by fighting for water access and affordability for all Ohioans. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us how fragile water security is for many Americans. Nationwide, more than a third of all households will not be able to pay their water bill by the end of 2022 according to a report out of Michigan State University.
As water rates have risen steeply in recent years, vulnerable Ohioans have been affected the most. A report on water and sewer affordability in Ohio found that in nearly 80 percent of Ohio communities, a month of basic water and sewer service requires more than eight hours of labor at minimum wage. The Ohio report also found that water costs are disproportionately felt in communities of color which have been redlined and disinvested in for decades and in rural communities being served by smaller water utilities.
We need policy solutions in Ohio that will ban water shutoffs due to nonpayment and require public water utilities to create water affordability programs based on available income of the household. We need public water utilities to develop emergency water assistance programs for people who cannot afford to pay their water bill when they fall on hard times and programs which provide an opportunity for debt forgiveness for Ohioans who are diligently working to pay down water debt.
All Ohioans should have access to clean, safe drinking water regardless of where they live or how much money they make.
As we celebrate the 48th birthday of one of the most important environmental laws in our country, please join me in advocating for a future with clean and affordable water for all. Let’s start by being informed consumers, getting to know the source of our own drinking water and getting to know the utility and local government leaders who make critical decisions about our water. Then let’s stand up to the Trump administration by rejecting the Dirty Water Rule and asking our congressional leaders to do the same. Finally, let’s fight for affordable, clean water by letting our state lawmakers know we want water security and affordability for every single Ohioan.