Dan Bender with La Plata County Sheriff’s Office, taking water samples from the animas river
On January 23, the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, reversed the 2015 rule that protected more than half of the country’s wetlands and small waterways. Cities will now be able to release more sewage and pollutants into water. While there are federal laws that forbid the release of raw sewage into water systems, there are many older cities across the Northeast and Midwest with old sewer systems. These old systems can hold sewage and rainfall sufficiently for the duration of time, but when there is increased rainfall the untreated sewage overflows into local waterways. Climate change isn’t helping this issue—with more rainfall, these systems overflow more frequently. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average national rainfall has risen in 90% of US states, not including Hawaii and Puerto Rico, from 1959 to 2018. Climate Central reports that the eight largest increases in average rainfall all hail from the Northeast and Midwest, right where these older sewer systems are located.
The New York Times reported that this reversed rule is making it easier for cities to dump sewage by allowing them to delay or negotiate federally-imposed requirements for renovations to their sewer systems. These renovations would be extremely costly, and under the Trump administration, the EPA has been more willing to negotiate the requirements. Some city officials are reported to have been thankful for this new flexibility, as they were not able to afford the enormous renovations required of them. However, environmentalists argue that relaxed rules pose a major health risk. The New York Times quoted Becky Hammer, deputy director for federal water policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council, to illustrate this point.
“This trend is yet another example of the administration’s deregulatory agenda threatening our natural resources and public health,” said Hammer “If cities face genuine cost concerns, there are other methods to maintain affordability while still keeping sewage out of our lakes and rivers.”
Why is this sewage so dangerous? The United States Geological Survey is a government agency that studies the geographical landscape, natural resources and natural hazards of the US. According to its website, it is necessary to treat wastewater to protect many aspects of life. They explained why clean water is critical for four reasons: for fisheries, wildlife habitats, recreation and quality of life, and health. Essentially, what they were saying was that clean water is necessary to maintain the health of rivers and oceans and the wildlife that lives in them. The health of humans is also threatened by untreated water.
“If it is not properly cleaned, water can carry disease,” the USGS website stated. “Since we live, work and play so close to water, harmful bacteria have to be removed to make water safe.”
This EPA rollback is one of almost 95 environmental rollbacks that have been either proposed or put into action under the Trump administration. For a more complete detailing of these rollbacks, click here.