New 'Dead Zone' Report Calls for Greater Protection of Wetlands and Streams

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Serena Ingre, 202/289-2378, singre@nrdc.org,
or Josh Mogerman, 312/780-7424, jmogerman@nrdc.org

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)

New 'Dead Zone' Report Calls for Greater Protection of Wetlands and Streams

Clean Water Act Enforcement a Key to Mitigating Pollution in Mississippi River Basin

WASHINGTON - Wetlands and streams in the Mississippi River Basin are at increased risk of pollution and destruction,
according to a new report released today by the Natural Resources
Defense Council (NRDC). Many of these bodies of water were historically
covered under the Clean Water Act, but a series of misguided Supreme
Court decisions have left them facing increased threats from pollutants
including those that cause "dead zones."
 

"Congress
must take immediate action to restore protection to roughly 20 million
acres of America's wetlands and thousands of headwater streams," said
Jon Devine, senior attorney in NRDC's Water Program. "The health of one
of America's greatest natural resources, the Mississippi River, and the
Gulf Coast depends on restoring safeguards to stop pollution."
 

Each summer, enormous quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus flow down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. These
pollutants contribute to the formation of a "dead zone" in the Gulf, an
area where the bottom layer of water is so oxygen-depleted that most
aquatic life cannot survive. Typically, the Gulf "dead zone" stretches
west from where the Mississippi River enters the Gulf towards Texas,
making it the largest in the U.S. and the second largest in the world.
In 2007, it grew, covering an area roughly the size of New Jersey.
 

According
to the report, "Missing Protection: Polluting the Mississippi River
Basin's Small Streams and Wetlands,"countless streams, rivers, lakes
and other waterways are in danger of pollution and destruction. Two
recent Supreme Court rulings, along with policy directives from the
Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,
have raised questions about whether the Clean Water Act's protections
extend to a host of "non-navigable" and "isolated" waterways. This
loophole is particularly troubling in relation to the problem of
nutrient pollution in the Mississippi River Basin.
 

Small waterways such as wetlands and streams have important
roles both as conduits and as sinks for this nutrient pollution.
Evidence shows that while many of the nutrient pollution that reaches
the Gulf comes from runoff that enters headwater streams, small streams
and wetlands can also intercept and remove nutrients from the water
before they get to major river systems and the Gulf. They also provide
drinking water, prevent floods, provide habitat for fish and wildlife,
and filter out other pollutants. 
 

According
to NRDC, Congress must pass the broadly-supported Clean Water
Restoration Act, a bill that will re-establish protections for the
nation's water bodies by:
 

(1) Reaffirming the historic understanding of the Clean Water Act that the law extends beyond traditionally navigable waters;
 

(2)
Ensuring the law's protections apply to all of the waters of the United
States that had been covered by the agencies' longstanding regulations;
and,

(3) Explaining why Congress has
ample constitutional authority over the nation's waters, as defined in
the Act, including so-called "isolated" waters, headwater streams,
small rivers, ponds, lakes and wetlands.
 

To
help limit the damage until Congress can fix the law, the report also
urges that the EPA and the Army Corps must immediately enforce the
existing law to the fullest extent that the Supreme Court's decisions
allow.
 

For the full text of the report, go to http://www.nrdc.org/water/pollution/msriver/msriver.pdf

To see a fact sheet about the Clean Water Restoration Act, please visit: www.nrdc.org/legislation/factsheets/leg_07020201A.pdf

 

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