Reports

The Clean Water Rule: Clearing Up Confusion to Protect Public Health

June 2015

Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) released an issue brief examining the country’s Clean Water Rule and how it will improve and protect Americans’ health and restore guaranteed protections for a range of waters.

The briefThe Clean Water Rule: Clearing up Confusion to Protect Public Health, finds that, despite advances in water management, waterborne illnesses still pose a serious threat to Americans’ health.  Even though water-related illnesses are largely underreported, the United States annually experiences a significant number of waterborne illnesses. In fact, each year around 30 outbreaks and 1,000 reported drinking water-related cases and around 24 outbreaks and 1,300 recreational water-related cases occur.

According to the brief, water pollution affects Americans’ health on a regular basis. In the summer of 2014, the country witnessed a dramatic example of the effects of contaminated waterways when a toxic algal event in Lake Erie shut off the main drinking water supply for 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio.

In another recent example, in Charleston, West Virginia, hundreds of thousands of people were unable to use their tap water because of toxic substances in the water supply. And, across the country, industrial pollution, animal and human waste, and waterborne pathogens are often found in these headwaters—from which 117 million Americans get their drinking water.

To help resolve these issues, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers — which implement the Clean Water Act—held more than 400 stakeholder meetings, sifted through  more than a million public comments (of which 87 percent favored the action), and developed a detailed scientific report, Connectivity of Streams and Wetlands to Downstream Waters, that examined more than 1,200 peer-reviewed publications on the connections between upstream and downstream bodies of water.

These actions resulted in the creation of the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies the scope of the headwaters that are protected under the Clean Water Act. According to the brief, by providing protection for these waters, the Clean Water Rule will safeguard headwaters, better hold industrial polluters of headwaters accountable and greatly improve the nation’s health.

“We want to un-muddy the waters – the Clean Water Act’s legacy has been to ensure Americans have sustainable access to a healthy water supply,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. “Moving forward, the Clean Water Rule will further the Act’s great successes by strengthening protections for our nation’s water supply and reducing instances of waterborne illness. The Rule should be administered—without delay or further changes—to avoid putting the public’s health at further risk.”

The brief also notes that protecting America’s headwaters is popular across political lines. A recent poll found that 80 percent of American voters favor the Rule, with half of voters saying they strongly favor it. Support for the rule cuts across party lines, with large majorities of Democrats, Independents and Republicans in favor.

Access the full brief here.