In defense of clean water

In defense of clean water

The Trump administration recently announced a proposed revision of a key rule implementing the federal Clean Water Act, which is among the nation’s most important – and effective – environmental laws. Through this change, the Administration seeks to redefine which waterbodies are subject to regulation under the Act, and in so doing significantly reduce the miles of streams and acres of wetlands that are protected from pollution. This short-sighted action, which was not unexpected, flies in the face of science-based evidence and threatens the clean water to which we’re all entitled – nationally and here in the Delaware River watershed.

The fact is that since the 1970s, the Clean Water Act has benefited communities across the country. It has steadily moved us away from a past in which many rivers and streams were open sewers and critical headwaters were at risk of impairment by unregulated discharges and development.  The Act’s science-based standards, which helped to spawn the modern conservation movement and which also have provided unprecedented opportunity for civic engagement for decades, have effectively advanced us toward its primary objective: to restore and maintain the integrity of the nation’s waters.

It’s because of the Clean Water Act that birds and fish have returned to formerly “dead” waterways and people can swim in and kayak on creeks and streams that for too long were dangerous and unpleasant. It’s why water-reliant industries are surviving, and why residential, park and trail development is booming along the Delaware River waterfront.

The changes proposed by the Administration would undermine that progress.

For this reason, we were compelled to join the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University and the Open Space Institute to speak out against this proposal by jointly publishing a response in the Philadelphia Inquirer. We believe that the Act should be defended in the original spirit in which it was created: to protect our water resources for future generations, and to lift up the idea that clean water is a public benefit shared by all.

While we are proud to use our voice to stand up for these necessary protections, we are also taking action through our grantmaking. One-third of the William Penn Foundation’s annual grant budget goes toward protecting and restoring clean water in the Delaware Basin through our Watershed Protection Program. You can learn more about that work here.

The Clean Water Act – which for the first time set science-based water quality principles applied across the entire nation – is an essential foundation for the local and regional work we fund in the Delaware River watershed. It provides the commonsense standards we rely on – in communities upstream and downstream, in NY, PA, NJ and DE – to keep our waters drinkable, swimmable, and fishable.

While our commitment to protecting the Delaware River watershed remains steadfast, the weakening of this important federal statute puts progress that has been made at risk, and makes additional progress we, our grantees, and communities throughout our region aspire to even more challenging to realize. It is clear that the loss or diminution of federal leadership on this front would be a serious blow that philanthropy and the non-profit conservation and environmental protection sector may not be able to overcome.