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Activists call on Congress to strengthen Clean Water Act
January 20, 2010
Lexington - In 1972, the Clean Water Act was passed in a historic promise to make all of our lakes and rivers safe for fishing and swimming by 1985. Today, 38 years later, our waters still lack the protections they need: nearly half the waters in the U.S. are considered too polluted to be safe.
A bill in Congress would strengthen the Clean Water Act to make good on its promise.
"We need clean water now, and we need the federal government to act to protect our health and our environment" said Eleanor Fort, preservation associate for Environment Massachusetts.
Rollbacks to the Clean Water Act over the last decade have left our wetlands and smaller streams vulnerable. Polluters can now slip under the radar of the Environmental Protection Agency’s system of permits. Even when polluters are under the permit system, toxic chemicals end up in our river and in our drinking water. Industrial facilities discharged more than 12,700 pounds of toxic chemicals in Massachusetts’ rivers in 2007.
Yet in some parts of Massachusetts there has been remarkable leadership to keep the wetlands and streams that feed our rivers clean. The Alewife Reservation, where Little Pond and Little River collect the water that eventually flows into the Mystic River, is an example of the care and keeping of clean water that all our wetlands should have.
The Cambridge Department of Public Works has worked to protect the waters in the Alewife Reservation, and a new project to collect and treat the rainwater from surrounding neighborhoods like Belmont will improve the water quality and the flow to the Mystic.
Ellen Mass, president of the Friends of the Alewife Reservation, a group working to bring attention to these issues around the Alewife Reservation and educating community members through activities and events.
"The watershed will be significantly changed with the improvement of water quality and flow the storm water management and wetlands restoration project," said Mass.
The federal government has a responsibility to ensure the same protections to other wetlands across the state. Massachusetts has more than 48,000 acres of wetlands according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. These areas could be the dumping ground for toxic chemicals and other pollution under the current federal law.
We need to start implementing the Clean Water Act the way it was intended — to make all of our waters fishable and swimmable. That means writing permits with tough, numeric limits for each type of pollution — and then enforcing them with credible penalties, not just warning letters.
This also means making sure that every waterway in Massachusetts is once again protected by Clean Water Act permits. The Mystic River will never be clean if we allow others to pollute the very streams and the wetlands that feed it on the Alewife Reservation. The Clean Water Restoration Act — now pending in Congress — would restore protection to thousands of streams and millions of acres of wetlands across the country.
We applaud Rep. Mike Capuano, D-Somerville, for co-sponsoring the Clean Water Restoration Act in 2007. His continued leadership on clean water will be crucial in the coming months as the bill is introduced in his committee and in the House.
"With such innovation for clean water here in the Alewife Reservation, it is appropriate for our Representative to show the same dedication in Washington at this crucial time," concluded Fort. — Submitted by Environment Massachusetts