Both of us grew up around water in Arkansas, one around Bayou Meto and its duck-hunting wetlands, and the other fishing the Little Maumelle River, Crooked Creek, and dozens of streams and lakes in The Natural State.
That's one of the reasons we became aquatic biologists, one with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, and the other with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. We're recently retired from those positions after working for decades and decided to join the oldest conservation organization in the state, the Arkansas Wildlife Federation, started in 1936.
Having sampled fish and water quality in many counties in Arkansas, we know that our incredible rivers, like the Buffalo and the White, are fed by dozens of small tributary streams, and lakes like Ouachita, DeGray, and Beaver bring a lot of enjoyment to Arkansans and visitors.
But Arkansas' lakes and rivers face an uncertain future. The smaller streams and wetlands that feed these waters are not protected as originally intended. Two controversial Supreme Court decisions have made it unclear if these waters are protected by the Clean Water Act. Therefore, it is not simply "federal overreach," as earlier guest writer Attorney General Leslie Rutledge opined, but extremely important to Arkansans to support the Clean Water Rule, the restoration of the Clean Water Act to its original intent.
Arkansas is a water-rich state that relies on fish and wildlife-related activities to add nearly $2 billion to our state's economy annually.
Protecting these streams and wetlands is in our own best interest. The streams at risk provide drinking water to nearly one million people. There are nearly 400 polluting facilities located on or near these streams. Arkansas has lost 72 percent of its wetlands since the 1780s, greater than any other inland state. One acre of wetlands can store up to 1.5 million gallons of floodwater, reducing damage downstream. Wetlands are natural pollutant filters, reduce erosion, and provide water-treatment cost-savings as well as generate income. Arkansas is a premier destination for waterfowl hunting and a significant percent of fish caught by anglers use wetlands for spawning, shelter and food.
In addition, small streams that have intermittent flow make up 70 percent of the 100,000 miles of streams and rivers in Arkansas. These smaller streams don't run year-round but add significant flow to our larger rivers seasonally. Just because a stream doesn't have flow every day doesn't mean it's not important to a stream's water budget.
The Clean Water Rule provides clarification and follows a common-sense approach to water conservation. The EPA and the U.S. Corps of Engineers have been especially diligent in gathering important input from the agriculture community. Both of us have worked at state agencies and understand that, at times, agencies are not popular in the public's eyes. But EPA has done a good job in working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that concerns by farmers were addressed.
The proposal actually provides an expansion of the current exemptions for normal farming, ranching and forestry practices. "Puddles" are not regulated, as some would have you believe. Period.
People our age (60+) who still remember Ohio's Cuyahoga River burning on national news are proud that we were the generation that spoke up for clean water. Before the Clean Water Act, individual states determined how to best "balance" pollution control with other concerns. This way of trying to control pollution did not work for our nation then, and it will not work for us in 2015. We need to continue to work toward clarity of the Clean Water Act as a proactive approach to protecting our water resources.
The Natural State is one of the best places in the country to enjoy the outdoors. We need to protect our most precious natural resource--water--not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. Some rivers and wetlands don't just end at the state line, and therefore a national, as well as state, perspective is needed when considering water resources. When wetlands are drained and streams are polluted, it imperils America's hunting and fishing economy--which accounts for over $200 billion in economic activity annually and 1.5 million jobs. America's 47 million sportsmen and women rely on clean water for hunting, angling, and other outdoor recreation.
If we want clean water for generations to come, we need to support that which restores the Clean Water Act to its original intent; that of keeping water clean and healthy for humans and animals, and definitely not allow it to catch on fire again.
Ellen McNulty is president and Steve Filipek is outreach director of the Arkansas Wildlife Federation.
Editorial on 08/21/2015