Pro­tect­ing all of our wa­ter

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION - Ivers and streams

Rin Cal­i­for­nia and much of the rest of the West are dif­fer­ent from those in other parts of the na­tion. It’s not un­com­mon for streams here to swell with win­ter rain and spring snowmelt but dry up com­pletely in the sum­mer. The Los An­ge­les River is a good ex­am­ple. Even in the wet­ter north­ern part of the state, wa­ter­courses that con­tinue to f low in sum­mer are so rare that when Span­ish ex­plor­ers found one in what is now Santa Clara County, they named it Per­ma­nente Creek to spotlight its peren­nial na­ture. In Cal­i­for­nia, in­ter­mit­tent streams are the norm.

The fed­eral Clean Wa­ter Act, adopted in 1972, was long in­ter­preted by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency as pro­vid­ing Cal­i­for­nia- style streams the same pro­tec­tion from pol­luters as their East Coast coun­ter­parts. That stands to rea­son, be­cause streams that dry up in sum­mer f low the rest of the year into the rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers that are the pri­mary wa­ter sup­ply sources for mil­lions of res­i­dents.

But a pair of Supreme Court rul­ings handed down in the last decade and a half have mud­died the wa­ters by find­ing some EPA in­ter­pre­ta­tions overly broad, while fail­ing to of­fer clear guid­ance on how the agency should pro­ceed. Now the EPA, with the help of the Army Corps of Engi­neers, has pro­posed a rule that clar­i­fies the pro­tec­tions that are so im­por­tant for Cal­i­for­nia. Wouldbe pol­luters and some mem­bers of Congress who sup­port them are balk­ing. The rule de­serves sup­port against their at­tack.

In Los An­ge­les and San Diego coun­ties alone, 1.4 mil­lion res­i­dents get their drink­ing wa­ter from sources that are pro­tected by the new rule but would be vul­ner­a­ble to pol­lu­tion with­out it. That num­ber could rise much higher as the drought con­tin­ues. Streams that once con­tin­ued trick­ling through sum­mer­time are now dry­ing up and be­com­ing in­ter­mit­tent. Un­der in­ter­pre­ta­tions urged by some in­dus­tries, those streams would no longer be pro­tected, even in win­ter when they are full.

In ad­di­tion, Cal­i­for­nia’s ground­wa­ter is recharged by in­ter­mit­tent and ephemeral streams and is clean and ready for use — or tainted and use­less with­out costly cleanup — depend­ing on the qual­ity of the wa­ter that seeps into it. That ground­wa­ter ac­counts for 40% of the state’s wa­ter sup­ply dur­ing years of nor­mal pre­cip­i­ta­tion, and even more dur­ing drought.

As all wa­ter be­comes more scarce, it is cru­cial to pro­tect the qual­ity of what is left. The EPA’s clean wa­ter rule does that. It de­serves sup­port.

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