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Commentary: Tammy Duckworth: A strong Clean Water Act keeps our drinking glasses full, our fish safe to eat and our beaches open

Tammy Duckworth, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Op Eds

Imagine it's the first day of summer. You decide to take your young family to cool off at Lake Michigan. You pack a lunch, get the beach towels out, load up your kids with sunblock and send them out to play in the lake. After a great day of summer fun, you arrive home and see that your daughter has a rash on her arm and your son is suddenly ill.

This could be the reality for families across Illinois and the entire country if we allow the rollback of the Clean Water Act, a landmark law that is our nation's first line of defense in ensuring the integrity of the Great Lakes as well as the rivers, streams and tributaries that feed them. In fact, in 2018, every beach in Illinois that was tested by the Environmental Protection Agency had to close for at least one day, and South Shore Beach in southern Chicago was closed for nearly 40 days because of contamination.

Under the Trump administration, the EPA is gutting protections for vast bodies of water that used to be covered under the Clean Water Act, effectively jeopardizing the safety of families and communities across the country. The EPA is even attempting to stop states from doing more to safeguard water supplies. Apparently, this administration only cares about state rights when it wants to allow polluters to destroy streams and pave over wetlands.

For nearly 50 years, the Clean Water Act has set out to reduce or eliminate pollution in our nation's waterways. These are the bodies of water that we use for recreation -- like swimming or fishing -- and that often feed into our drinking water supplies.

Keeping our waters clean is an economic concern as well. For example, according to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the Great Lakes commercial, recreational and tribal fisheries are valued at more than $7 billion annually and support more than 75,000 jobs.

When a bipartisan majority in Congress passed the Clean Water Act and a Republican president signed it into law, our nation's leaders understood that we could no longer ignore dangerously polluted waters. Decades of unchecked dumping of untreated sewage, industrial waste and agricultural runoff had led to two-thirds of the country's lakes, rivers and coastal waters becoming unsafe.

Today, our country takes for granted a United States that boasts far cleaner waterways than decades prior. We must never forget that this bipartisan law was an incredible success and that today, the Clean Water Act's industry-specific regulations prevent more than 700 billion pounds of toxic pollutants every year from being dumped into our nation's waters. The rate of wetlands loss has dramatically decreased compared to the pre-Clean Water Act era.

We've made great progress but there's more work to be done. Now more than ever, we must remain vigilant in protecting our clean water and do all we can to support and strengthen this law.

The threats to our clean water span more than just this environmentally bankrupt administration. The rapid pace of the climate crisis is causing dire flooding, accelerated sea level rise and damaging droughts. These natural disasters threaten people's homes, lives and the ecosystems they rely upon. Millions of Americans live in communities that do not have access to reliable safe drinking water. Many live in areas where the cost of water is unaffordable. Children are attending schools where their drinking water is contaminated with lead. All of these threats are related to the quality of our waterways. And instead of tearing down the guardrails -- like the Clean Water Act -- that can keep our water safe for millions, we should be building up more support to ensure clean water everywhere.

The Clean Water Act provides a strong foundation that should be strengthened. Yet the Trump administration is relentless in its zeal to do the exact opposite: weaken and damage this seminal law so that polluters can profit, while Americans suffer the consequences of unsafe water.

 

As co-founder of the Environmental Justice Caucus and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works' Subcommittee on Fisheries, Water and Wildlife, which has jurisdiction over the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, I am seeking to make dramatic and historic investments right here at home to protect public health and achieve even cleaner water.

The time has come for Congress to make dramatic investments in the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund, a program that helps states with infrastructure projects that are key to managing wastewater treatment. I am also working across the aisle to provide more resources for rural, tribal and front line communities so that they can better manage their wastewater and drinking water utilities. These resources include access to federal grants, loans and technical assistance.

No parents should fear that when they take their son or daughter for a swim in the lake that their child will get ill. No one should fear that the fish brought home for Sunday dinner might sicken their entire family. Our nation's commitment to clean water began with the Clean Water Act, but more we've got a long way to go to truly deliver on the legacy started 47 years ago. Healthy water means healthier families, communities and economies.

About The Writer

Tammy Duckworth is a U.S. senator from Illinois.

(c)2019 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

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