Obama Pushes for Clean Water Restoration Act of 2009

The landmark Clean Water Act (CWA) was passed in 1972 intending to protect and clean up all of America’s waterways. Two relatively recent Supreme Court cases have rolled back protection of American waters by narrowing CWA definitions, and the Obama administration would like to restore the act’s original intentions. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has reintroduced legislation to restore CWA called the Clean Water Restoration Act of 2009 (CWRA). Rivers, streams and wetlands that were once protected under CWA would be within the scope of CWRA. There are twenty-three cosponsors for CWRA demonstrating it has broad support.

Clean Water Restoration Act 2009 would protect all waters in the USA
Clean Water Restoration Act 2009 would protect all waters in the USA /Β Image by RonAlmog

CWA was considered to apply to all waterways in America, until two Supreme Court cases interpreted the act. The 2001 Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County v. United States Army Corps of Engineers and the 2006 Rapanos v. United States Supreme Court cases narrowed CWA by ruling non-navigable, intrastate waters were not protected under the law. This decision has made it difficult to enforce CWA violations by causing confusion as to what waterways are actually protected. Don Young, executive vice president of Ducks Unlimited, explains:

Existing EPA and Army Corps of Engineers guidance make it clear that a legislative solution must be sought to restore protection to America’s wetlands. Many of these wetlands that have lost their protection are critical waterfowl breeding habitats…The loss of protection for geographically isolated wetlands and the confusion over how to interpret the new guidance is detrimental to people and wildlife. Alleviating these problems through the Clean Water Restoration Act eliminates both and will ultimately benefit everyone, from landowners to waterfowlers.

The term “navigable” is particularly troublesome, as it exempts 20 million acres of wetlands and half of all streams from protection because they do not harbor boat traffic. CWRA would change “navigable” requirement to simply “waters of the United States. SPR Environmental Law Blog clarifies:

One proposal is to replace the plainly confusing reference to “navigable waters” in the CWA with the term “waters of the United States,” though any statutory revision would still have to pass muster under the U.S. Constitution by having some relationship to interstate commerce. The change, however, would likely eliminate the need to link waterways and, especially wetlands, with other “navigable” water bodies.

President Obama sent a letter to both the House of Representatives and Senate urging them to restore federal jurisdiction over all wetlands and streams. U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, explains:

The Obama Administration has provided a clear call for legislation to ensure that the Clean Water Act continues to be an effective tool to keep America’s waters clean and our families healthy. I look forward to working closely with the Administration and my colleagues in the Senate to enact legislation that protects rivers, lakes and wetlands and keeps Americans’ drinking water safe while providing the clear guidance that farmers, businesses, federal agencies, and state and local governments need.

The letter was signed by Nancy Sutley, the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Lisa Jackson, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar; and Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Terrence Salt.

Without CWRA, we could return to the times of the Cuyahoga River burning and the Great Lakes smelling like cesspools. The Clean Water Act is important legislation that needs restoration. It’s about birds; it’s about clean water; it’s about drinking water. CWA was intended to protect all of America’s waters from pollution, not just those that are navigable.

Written by Jennifer Lance


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  1. Thanks for the post- simple explanation of what needs to happen and who is making it happen. CWRA is so necessary it hurts and you’re right, it’s for everything from birds to drinking water to basic protection from pollution.

  2. The last time I checked, the Great Lakes were navigable. So passing this bill would not change the state of the Great Lakes. This is just another way for the goverment to infringe on the rights of Americans.

  3. Why past this act when the waters of the State belong to the State and not the federal government. It seems like the media has made people forget about the sovereignty of the States. This is exactly what the fore fathers warned of…..Big, powerful, controlling government. Now, they disguise their intentions… Clean Water Restoration Act…should be…the Freedom of Water Revocation Act.

  4. Who the hell is Jennifer that wrote this article? She has no professional experience with anything even close to the subject matter. She teaches “art” in the middle of a Northern CA forest and eats only vegetables. Jennifer lives on 160 acres and says she lives off-the-grid, So why should she be writing anything for others to read? She needs to teach her art and stay out of real issues facing our developed world where those of us living on-the-grid must deal with complex inter-connectivity which depends on maintenance of critical infrastructure, technology, and transport of resources. She needs to stay “off the internet”and conserve energy used up by her micro-hydro turbine.

    We all know that Obama and his Chicago thugs are working very hard to take control of everything in American (financial, auto, banks, corporations, health, energy, and now our water). By the end of 2010, we might as well move to Russia or any other nation where people have no freedom or rights.

    Goodbye to the Constitution and the USA which use to be a beckon of light for all those seeking freedom from centralized government oppression.

  5. Open your eyes and really look at the possibilities of this law. While the intent seems good on the surface, the possibilities hidden in it’s wording are horrific. The federal gov’t has no business in taking yet another responsibility from our state governments and using that power to remove another freedom from our people. In a worst case here, by giving DC the power to control every irrigation source from rivers to puddles, this law would allow the federal government to control our entire food supply, what can be grown, where and when. Does that sound like a federal republic or democracy to you? It doesn’t to me. Sounds like another step towards unitary republic. Not good! People better open their eyes and see the implications of this before it is too late.

  6. what about the farmers/ranchers who need water to make a living? to water their crops and their livestock? Is this law taking into account of these folks (who are a minority now in our country) but what our country was initially founded on. Why would this NOT be regulated at a State Level – when did I live in a Socialist country?

    Ranchers need clean water to have healthy livestock – no healthy livestock, no money for them..

    So why are they taking rights away from us? Cities have more polluted waters by all the chemicals they flush/down the drain then the country does. Where are those rules?

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