Fac­ing rough water?

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posal that would re­duce fed­eral pro­tec­tion causes con­cern

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Bruce Fin­ley

WEST­MIN­STER» On a swel­ter­ing sum­mer day, there’s noth­ing sweeter for Navy vet­eran Derek Gar­cia, back from serv­ing his coun­try abroad, than fish­ing the cool waters of Hid­den Lake with his fa­ther, grand­par­ents and daugh­ter.

And the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­cent pro­posal that would roll back fed­eral pro­tec­tion against pol­lu­tion and de­vel­op­ment at this oa­sis — and thou­sands of other lakes, streams and wet­lands na­tion­wide — up­sets him deeply.

Pro­tect­ing pris­tine pock­ets of water “is ex­tremely im­por­tant,” said Gar­cia, a busi­ness owner, help­ing Aaliyah, 8, reel in sun­fish and bass.

“It’s im­por­tant to have these water re­sources around in the city, eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble,” he said. “Not every­body has time, or the money, to go to the moun­tains to fish.”

Gar­cia’s re­ac­tion to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency ad­min­is­tra­tor Scott Pruitt’s push to weaken fed­eral power over streams and wet­lands re­flected wide con­cern across Colorado and the West, where more than half the wa­ter­ways could lose pro­tec­tion. That’s be­cause Western wa­ter­sheds of­ten do not hold water year-round or are less ob­vi­ously linked to the “nav­i­ga­ble waters” that Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion lawyers con­tend are the only waters that merit pro­tec­tion. The EPA pro­posal, hailed as rein­ing in gov­ern­ment over­reach, would limit fed­eral reg­u­la­tion of de­vel­op­ment and

“Pres­i­dent Trump promised to drain the swamp. In­stead, this EPA pro­posal aims to drain our wet­lands and pol­lute our streams.”

David Nickum, Colorado Trout Un­lim­ited di­rec­tor

pol­lu­tion to large con­nected wa­ter­ways.

Less than 30 per­cent of Colorado’s es­ti­mated 95,000 miles of streams are likely to qual­ify for pro­tec­tion if the cur­rent sys­tem is changed as pro­posed, ac­cord­ing to a 2009 study by the con­ser­va­tion group Trout Un­lim­ited. EPA data show that 77,850 miles of wa­ter­ways in Colorado are ephemeral, only flow­ing sea­son­ally or dur­ing rain.

Fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal of­fi­cials must pro­tect “waters of the United States” un­der the nation’s land­mark 1972 Clean Water Act — by re­quir­ing prop­erty own­ers to ob­tain per­mits de­signed to min­i­mize im­pact be­fore water can be pol­luted or wet­lands de­stroyed. The U.S. Army Corps of En­gi­neers ad­min­is­ters these per­mits, typ­i­cally re­quir­ing six months or more for pro­cess­ing — a source of frus­tra­tion for some.

Trump’s team has pro­posed to re­peal a broader def­i­ni­tion of “waters of the United States” that the EPA and Army Corps adopted in 2015 un­der Pres­i­dent Barack Obama — one that ex­panded pro­tec­tion fol­low­ing U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sions in 2001 and 2006 that cre­ated con­fu­sion. The court ruled that fed­eral author­i­ties could only re­quire per­mits for pol­lu­tion and dredg­ing of “nav­i­ga­ble waters.” The Obama-era ap­proach, still not im­ple­mented due to law­suits, al­lows reg­u­la­tion of flow­ing water, in­clud­ing ephemeral streams, with ex­emp­tions for agri­cul­ture.

Pub­li­ca­tion in the fed­eral reg­is­ter on June 27 of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro­posal to re­peal and re­place clean water stan­dards trig­gered a 30-day pe­riod for pub­lic com­ment. Then the roll­back would take ef­fect. How­ever, more than 70 mem­bers of Congress last week re­quested an ex­ten­sion to no less than six months. On Thurs­day, the League of Con­ser­va­tion Vot­ers and 18 other en­vi­ron­ment groups sent Pruitt a let­ter re­quest­ing the same.

While Colorado has statelevel rules lim­it­ing water pol­lu­tion that still could ap­ply, there is no state rule against dredg­ing and fill­ing that de­stroys wet­lands and streams.

Beer brew­ers were among the first to ob­ject. Eight craft brew­ers in Colorado, joined by coun­ter­parts na­tion­wide, sent a let­ter to EPA and Army Corps lead­ers urg­ing max­i­mum pro­tec­tion.

“Beer is mostly water, so the qual­ity of our source water af­fects our fin­ished prod­uct. Even small chem­i­cal dis­rup­tions in our water sup­ply can al­ter the taste of a brew or in­flu­ence fac­tors like shelf life and foam pat­tern,” they wrote. “We need re­li­able sources of clean water to con­sis­tently pro­duce the great beer that is key to our suc­cess.”

In western Colorado, a grow­ing reliance on pris­tine water for the econ­omy — de­pend­ing more on recre­ation and tourism — com­pelled con­cern. The fuzzy mean­ing of “waters of the United States” and de­lays is­su­ing fed­eral per­mits are a prob­lem, many agree, and lo­cal of­fi­cials would wel­come greater clar­ity, said Torie Jarvis, co-di­rec­tor of the Water Quan­tity and Qual­ity Com­mit­tee (QQ) of the North­west Colorado Coun­cil of Gov­ern­ments. But most fa­vor greater pro­tec­tion, not less.

“While QQ sup­ports in­creased clar­ity for the def­i­ni­tion of ‘waters of the United States,’ this clar­ity should not mean re­duced water qual­ity pro­tec­tion un­der the Clean Water Act,” Jarvis and the other lo­cal lead­ers told EPA of­fi­cials June 19, af­ter the feds had asked for in­put for their pro­posed re­peal and over­haul of clean water rules.

“Water qual­ity in the head­wa­ters of Colorado is crit­i­cally im­por­tant for our re­gional tourism econ­omy as much as for en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. Tourism is the largest em­ploy­ment sec­tor in the head­wa­ters re­gion, com­pris­ing 48 per­cent of all jobs,” lo­cal of­fi­cials wrote. “Tourism in the re­gion in­cludes fish­ing, hunt­ing, kayak­ing, raft­ing, wad­ing, lake and reser­voir recre­ation, wildlife watch­ing, hik­ing, and snow­mak­ing for ski re­sorts, all of which de­pend on clean water.”

Some lo­cal of­fi­cials reckon they could pro­tect cher­ished wa­ter­sheds on their own, with­out ro­bust fed­eral clean water rules, by us­ing their power to reg­u­late land use.

En­vi­ron­ment groups last week ar­gued that a fed­eral role is nec­es­sary to but­tress lo­cal power.

“Lo­cal gov­ern­ments may be able to con­trol some im­pacts based on con­di­tions they might im­pose on de­vel­op­ments, but they do not have a statu­tory obli­ga­tion to do so — so the abil­ity to pro­tect these im­por­tant re­sources ends up re­ly­ing on their level of com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing water qual­ity, and their abil­ity to have the ex­per­tise and re­sources to do so, which for smaller lo­cal gov­ern­ments can be a real lim­i­ta­tion,” Colorado Trout Un­lim­ited di­rec­tor David Nickum said.

“Our main prac­ti­cal con­cern with the change in these fed­eral stan­dards is that we would lose the pro­tec­tion for sea­sonal streams and for wet­lands from be­ing dredged or filled in — pro­tec­tion that cur­rently is pro­vided. … Al­low­ing those ar­eas to be de­graded will in turn have rip­ple ef­fects down­stream onto our drink­ing water sup­plies and our im­por­tant fish­ing and recre­ation rivers,” Nickum said.

“Colorado’s out­door econ­omy and qual­ity of life de­pend on healthy, clean wa­ter­sheds, and an­glers know that starts at the source: the small, unas­sum­ing streams, head­wa­ters and wet­lands that re­scind­ing the Clean Water Rule puts at risk,” he said.

“Pres­i­dent Trump promised to drain the swamp. In­stead, this EPA pro­posal aims to drain our wet­lands and pol­lute our streams,” he said. “Coloradans de­serve bet­ter.”

In West­min­ster, city of­fi­cials for years have been work­ing to im­prove and ex­pand open space, in­clud­ing lakes and wet­lands along the Clear Creek cor­ri­dor that flows into the South Platte River.

Since 1985, West­min­ster has tried to pro­tect 87.5 acres of pub­lic wet­lands just west of Hid­den Lake. But the lake and its shore­line are pri­vately owned. De­vel­op­ers now are plan­ning to build new man­sions around the north shore of Hid­den Lake.

That con­struc­tion, which re­quires a fed­eral per­mit, prob­a­bly would not be pro­tected against pol­lu­tion, dredg­ing and fill­ing if Trump and the EPA push through the changes of clean water rules, said Seth Plas in the city en­gi­neer­ing of­fice.

“We want to be em­pow­ered to en­sure that our wet­lands and streams are pre­served nat­u­rally,” Plas said. “We want to en­sure they re­main un­pol­luted. That makes the qual­ity of life in our city more de­sir­able. We’re a city that en­joys be­ing out­doors. We en­joy walk­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties, bike­able com­mu­ni­ties. That’s our big push. It’s in every­body’s best in­ter­ests in this city to keep these wa­ter­ways beau­ti­ful and un­pol­luted.”

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

A wake­boarder en­joys the waves cre­ated by the boat that is tow­ing him last month at Hid­den Lake in West­min­ster. A pro­posal by the EPA would roll back fed­eral pro­tec­tion against pol­lu­tion and de­vel­op­ment at such waters.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

A bird perches near moss-cov­ered rocks near the spill­way last month at Hid­den Lake in West­min­ster, which would lose some fed­eral pro­tec­tion un­der a pro­posal by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

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