The South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems July newsletter offers a trio of articles that might make conservatives think that liberals have taken over the water works. Or maybe providing the most basic need to thousands of South Dakota homes simply requires our rural water providers to ignore ideology and stick with facts.
SDARWS first shares a report from Media Matters refuting conservative attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency's clarification of rules under the Clean Water Act. Apparently Fox and friends have been broadcasting false assertions that the proposed "Waters of the U.S." rule is some evil land grab, imposing expensive regulations on every drop of water as well as farm drain tile and ditches. Senator John Thune and Rep. Kristi Noem have fallen for this pro-polluter propaganda. Media Matters neatly dispenses with those myths and more, pointing out, among other things, that the clarified rules give the EPA less authority over less territory than it did under President Reagan; that the rules do farmers favors with exemptions for normal agricultural practices; and that the rules produce net economic benefits through cleaner water, recharged groundwater, reduced flooding (by protecting wetlands!), and more outdoor recreation.
SDARWS then cites Rich Widman and Chris Hesla of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, who urge us to contact Senators Thune and Johnson and tell them to put the Prairie Potholes over politics:
Over the last few years, the U.S. Supreme Court has issued rulings that emphasized the need to clarify language that protects the safety of our drinking water supplies, wetlands and headwaters streams. Knowing they needed to clear things up and provide certainty for farmers, the EPA and Corps of Engineers last month posted the draft “Waters of the U.S.” rule for public comment.
But now – with a bit of political maneuvering – some politicians are attempting to derail this clean water rule that would restore longstanding Clean Water Act protections to some of the nation’s most important waters and wetlands.
When final, the rule will maintain exemptions for regular farming activities while re-establishing Clean Water Act protections for the wetlands and streams that provide drinking water for one in three Americans.
As a bonus for sportsmen and anglers, these same wetlands and streams provide critical habitat in our Prairie Pothole region for ducks, pheasants and fish, thereby helping to sustain the strong hunting and fishing economy of South Dakota.
Whether you enjoy clean water for drinking, or wildlife habitat for hunting and fishing, I urge you to join me in supporting the proposed Waters of the U.S. rule. And I ask South Dakota U.S. Sens. John Thune and Tim Johnson to do so, as well. All policy-makers should [Rich Widman and Chris Hesla, "Clean Water Critical for South Dakota Outdoors," Rapid City Journal, 2014.06.28].
Finally, SDARWS spotlights concerns in Nevada that global warming is intensifying drought conditions that are draining Lake Mead, behind the Hoover Dam, to its lowest level. The decline of that reservoir is just one of multiple pressures on water supplies exacerbated by climate change that will force the Southwest to change regulations and water-use practices made back in the day when water seemed plentiful:
"We've seen changes in river flow timing because of losses of snowpack in the western U.S., in California and the Rocky Mountains as snow disappears faster and faster because of higher temperatures," said Peter Gleick, a water researcher and president of the Pacific Institute in Oakland. "Those are all examples of some of the impacts we thought we would see and are now seeing from climate change."
..."Adding climate change on top of a system that's already out of balance makes all of our problems more difficult," Gleick said. "We have to realize that there are limits, especially in the dry Southwest. We can't just pretend that we can grow our cities forever and somehow find new resources for them, new water for them. We have to change the way we do planning. We have to change the way we manage water. And if we don't, changes are going to be forced on us" [Ian James, "Vanishing Water: An Already Strained Water Supply, Threatened by Climate Change," Desert Sun, 2014.06.14].
Water is precious, and with rising population, industry, and temperatures, it is not as plentiful as when we got here. The Waters of the U.S. rule is one attempt to keep the water we have left clean.
The federal portal for submitting comments on the Waters of the U.S. rule is here. The more immediate way to protect your drinking water, your fishing holes, and that hidden slough where you always bag your duck limit is to turn off Fox News and listen to your local experts on our water supply.
Related Reading: Midland, Texas, is dealing with drought and dwindling aquifers by tapping water sources 67 miles away and by raising marginal water rates fivefold. The latter worked really well: higher water bills got folks to cut water usage 35%. But less usage means less revenue for Midland to spend on repairing and upgrading its water system.