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Why the Dirty Water Rule Matters for Ohioans

Scioto Audubon Park in Columbus (photo by Kevin Payravi, Wikimedia Commons)

My last Labor Day with my family was spent playing at the wetlands at the Scioto Audubon Park in Columbus. I laid down on the boardwalk alongside my six year-old and one-year old at the water’s edge. We peered into the water looking for fish and water bugs. We looked for ducklings gliding on the water’s surface and turtles sunning on rocks. We felt the wonder and beauty of this little urban water body, a wetland without connection to the river. 

It is such a gem, I can’t imagine losing this community resource. Yet, across Ohio, wetlands just like this one are now at great risk of disappearing.  

You may have heard the news. The Trump administration just released its Dirty Water Rule, removing federal protections for numerous streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds in Ohio. For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has helped us ensure more waters are safe for swimming, fishing, and drinking. But today, the Trump administration has turned back the clock to a time when fewer protections existed to safeguard people and wildlife from harmful pollution in our waters.    

The Trump Administration’s Dirty Water Rule proposes to dramatically reduce the scope of streams and wetlands protected under the Clean Water Act.  Countless remaining wetlands across the U.S. are now in danger of being filled in and paved over. This is because Clean Water Act protections will only extend to wetlands with a “continuous surface connection” to larger waters. 

Streams will be equally at risk. Federal pollution protections for seasonal streams that form due to rains or snowmelt will be completely removed. In some cases, smaller streams that dry up in the summer may also no longer be protected.

The Dirty Water Rule threatens Ohio’s prospects for clean, safe and affordable water. It leaves our water bodies more vulnerable to pollution and development, especially where state and local level regulations are less stringent than federal protections. 

So why does this matter for Ohio?

It matters because…

Ohioans’ drinking water starts in small streams. Safe drinking water depends on clean source water. Ohio needs to protect our drinking water sources at every opportunity. Ohioans rely on small streams, which flow into larger bodies of water, as their sources of drinking water.  In fact, 46 percent of Ohio residents get their drinking water from small stream sources. The Dirty Water Rule removes protections from thousands of miles of streams which feed into Ohio’s drinking water sources.  All Ohioans deserve access to clean and safe drinking water.

Small streams, wetlands and other water bodies provide protection in a climate change era.  Without protection, these critical waterways and water bodies and the filtering benefits that they provide could be destroyed. This will inevitably lead to more pollution running off urban streetscapes and farm fields and making its way downstream faster into larger rivers, the Ohio River and Lake Erie. This problem is unfortunately exacerbated in the face of climate change. Since 1994, severe rain events have increased in Ohio, with 2019 being one of our wettest years on record. All this heavy rain contributes to increased runoff that degrades our water quality, stresses our infrastructure, and poses public health risks including combined sewer overflows and outbreaks of harmful algal blooms. 

The dollars and cents don’t make sense. Rolling back clean water protections at a time when the nation is struggling to replace old water infrastructure makes no fiscal sense. To keep drinking water safe and properly manage wastewater, Ohio needs $27 billion over the next 20 years to repair and replace crumbling infrastructure. This cost will ultimately fall on communities and consumers, at a time when water rates are rapidly increasing across the nation. We should invest in the protection and restoration of these waterways to bring down drinking water costs and to provide other environmental benefits. EPA estimated that the Clean Water Rule provided between $339 million – $572 million annually in benefits to public like reducing flooding, filtering pollution, protecting wildlife, support for hunting and fishing, and recharging groundwater.

We must keep Ohio’s water blue, not green. The Ohio River is already labeled as one of the top three polluted rivers in the United States and harmful algal blooms continue to plague Lake Erie. Both of these iconic water-bodies are known for being incredibly polluted, yet they supply millions of Ohioans with drinking water. 

Ohio needs our remaining wetlands like the human body needs kidneys. Ohio has already lost some 90% of our original wetlands. Wetlands are like the kidneys of our environment, absorbing flood waters and filtering out the pollutants before slowly releasing the water back into streams and aquifers. They are a key natural resource that protect communities’ drinking water and prevent floods from damaging property. Wetlands are difficult to reconstruct and Ohio simply cannot afford to lose any more.

The Trump Administration’s Dirty Water Rule ignores the challenges that Ohioans face every day when it comes to accessing clean, safe and affordable water.  

Instead of replacing the Clean Water Rule with the Dirty Water Rule, federal and state leaders should further the legacy and mission of the Clean Water Act for each new generation. We’re fortunate to live in a state where water is a plentiful resource. But we can’t take our lakes, rivers, wetlands, and streams for granted.



Here are two ways you can help us fight this reckless rollback:

(1) Make a donation to defend our streams and wetlands: Make a gift now of $25 or more to help us fight for clean water for all Ohioans. Your donation will directly support OEC’s advocacy efforts to ensure clean, safe, and affordable water for all.

(2) Share your story: You can help us fight back by sharing the name, location, and story of a water body in your backyard or neighborhood that is at risk of being polluted or destroyed. You may share your water body story with us on Twitter by tagging @OhioEnviro using the hashtag #ProtectOhioWaterways. Please include pictures if possible!