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Drinking Water for 111 Million Americans Put at Risk

WASHINGTON - May 17 - The drinking water sources of more than 111 million Americans could be at risk because of the Environmental Protection Agency's policy to withhold Clean Water Act protections from headwater and seasonal streams. A Sierra Club report released today, based on EPA data, provides state-by-state information on drinking water supplies which rely, at least in part, on these small streams.

The report is available at:

The states with the largest percentage of people relying on drinking water sources that are at risk are Utah (90%); Colorado (83%); Kentucky (77%); Massachusetts (75%); and Maryland (70%).

This information comes just as Congress is about to have the chance to block this weakening of our anti-pollution safeguards.

"The EPA's policy directive puts our drinking water sources at risk from waste disposal, sewage discharges, oil spills, development projects and other polluting activities," said Navis Bermudez, Washington Representative, and author of the report. "Congress should stop this destructive policy and ensure that the EPA protects our drinking water sources to the fullest extent of the law."

Representatives Oberstar (D-MN), Leach (R-IA) and Dingell (D-MI) have announced that they intend to offer an amendment to block funding for implementation of the EPA policy directive. The House of Representatives is expected to consider the EPA appropriations bill later this week or next week.

On January 15, 2003, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers announced a new policy directive to remove Clean Water Act protections for many streams, wetlands, ponds, lakes and other waters. This "no protection" policy effectively directed federal regulators to withhold protection from millions of acres of wetlands, thousands of streams and other waters on grounds that are "isolated," unless they first get permission from their national headquarters in Washington, DC. Since most states lack effective protections for these waters, failing to enforce the provisions of the Clean Water Act in these waters means that sewage, chemical and mining waste, fill materials and other pollutants may be dumped without any permit.

"By failing to protect our headwater streams, our drinking water sources are at risk for pollution and destruction," Bermudez said. "That imposes an unfair burden on drinking water providers, and ultimately ratepayers, who must treat dirtier water to provide the public with safe drinking water."

Sierra Club's report also documents how EPA's policy directive puts at risk drinking water sources in a half-dozen communities, based primarily on concerns raised by regional EPA staff. These communities include New York City; parts of southern California; central Arizona; southwestern New Mexico; Boise; and the City of Rancho Cordova, California.

EPA regional staff worried that any changes to the types of waters covered under the Clean Water Act could cause pollution of groundwater water and drinking water quality. For example, they expressed concern about California's Santa Ana River, the source of drinking water for most of Orange County's residents. If a significant portion of the watershed's streams which do not flow year-around were excluded from Clean Water Act protections, regional EPA staff predicted poorer quality drinking water supplies and higher treatment costs.

The report is available at:

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