WATER: Rulings Restrict Clean Water Act, Foiling E.P.A., Duhigg, Charles, and Roberts Janet , The New York Times, (2010)


David Walter Banks for The New York Times
The mouth of Avondale Creek in Alabama, into which a pipe maker dumped oil, lead and zinc. A court ruling made the waterway exempt from the Clean Water Act.

Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators.

As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising.

Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years.

The Clean Water Act was intended to end dangerous water pollution by regulating every major polluter. But today, regulators may be unable to prosecute as many as half of the nation’s largest known polluters because officials lack jurisdiction or because proving jurisdiction would be overwhelmingly difficult or time consuming, according to midlevel officials.

“We are, in essence, shutting down our Clean Water programs in some states,” said Douglas F. Mundrick, an E.P.A. lawyer in Atlanta. “This is a huge step backward. When companies figure out the cops can’t operate, they start remembering how much cheaper it is to just dump stuff in a nearby creek.”

See: PBS Frontline: "Poisoned Waters"

See Video report: "Supreme Court Restricts Clean Water Act". | Mixplex

See: EPA in the crosshairs.

See: The Effect of the United States Supreme Court's Eleventh Amendment Jurisprudence on Clean Water Act Citizen Suits: Muddied Waters

See: Kid's view of a local water-quality problem

USGS - science for a changing world

Students in the Atlanta and Columbus, Ga. area formed The River Kids Network, which tests and cleans up local streams (wearing gloves and boots, of course). Is there an organization in your area that does similar work?

Here are some 3rd graders' observations during a recent creek cleanup:

Not safe, even for bugs

"It's not looking so good. Raw sewage is in the Chattahoochee River, and not many critters can survive there. If bugs can't survive in there, what are humans going to do?"

Just a little effort

"I would just like the river to be clean enough so I could splash around and maybe drink some water. It wouldn't be very hard to make a difference."

Had it up to here

"The problem is that there are sewage leaks going to the creek and the creek goes into the big river. Everyone should help. If everyone helped, you could see right down to the bottom of the creek."

Out from under cover

"I want to play in the creek and not have to wear gloves and boots."

Signs of life are few

"On our monthly trips, we've found a lot of trash, including more than 18 tires, a radio, shoes and plastic bags. We've only found a few forms of life. We saw one turtle and a few bugs, but not many fish."