What’s at Stake
There is no resource more important than water for securing a strong, prosperous future for America. Clean, abundant water is essential for protecting public health, growing our food, supporting business and industry, and conserving our natural heritage.What We’ve Accomplished
We can be proud of what we have accomplished so far in restoring our rivers, lakes, and coastal waters. Investments in clean water to date have paid off manyfold. Rivers and lakes that once reeked with filth have been cleansed of health-threatening pathogens and toxins. Cleaned-up waterfronts have sparked urban redevelopment. Clean rivers, lakes, and coastal waters are magnets that attract sport fishermen and other visitors to tourism-dependent communities. These success stories are heartening examples of the conservative ethic of stewardship in action.
Republicans can take credit for what we have achieved so far. Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) played a central role in drafting the Clean Water Act, which has been instrumental in reducing the industrial and sewage pollution that once filled our rivers and lakes. President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency, which was and remains essential for enforcing the Clean Water Act.
What We Face Today
We’ve come a long way from the days of burning rivers. As our country grows and new stresses on our water supplies have arisen, however, we face new challenges. They include:
Asset Management & Protection:
The aging infrastructure that delivers clean water to our taps and removes wastewater for treatment requires refurbishment and expansion in order to keep up with growth and more demanding water quality standards. The longer we delay addressing the investment backlog, the greater the backlog will grow.
We have made significant progress reducing pollution from large “point” sources such as sewage outfalls. We have more work to do reducing pollution flowing off numerous and widely diffused “non-point” sources: construction sites, pavement, rooftops, farms and ranches, even home lawns. Polluted runoff threatens our most treasured water bodies, among them the Great Lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, San Francisco Bay, and Puget Sound.
More Pressure from More Sources:
Water resources face numerous pressures that threaten both water quantity and water quality. America’s Wetland on the Gulf Coast is shrinking, damaging economically valuable commercial fisheries and exposing Gulf Coast communities to greater storm risk.
Population growth, especially in arid regions, will put more consumption pressure on water, exacerbating conflicts between cities and farms. More consumption pressure will squeeze fish and wildlife that depend on having the right amount of water at the right time, and endanger wetlands that filter water supplies and prevent floods at no cost to the taxpayers.
The threat of Asian carp entering Lake Michigan exemplifies the broad threat that aggressive invasive species pose to water bodies and aquatic ecosystems nationwide.
Heavy use of fossil-based energy releases carbon that causes ocean acidification. A changing climate, regardless of what one believes to be the cause, will bring a host of pressures on our water resources: saltwater intrusion into coastal aquifers, loss of Western mountain snowpack to heat and drought, greater incidence of intense rainfall that overwhelms storm and sanitary sewers, loss of coldwater fisheries.
What We Must Do
Protect Waters of the United States:
Water bodies, including remote tributaries and geographically isolated wetlands, are connected in seen and unseen ways that defy property lines and political boundaries. The goals of the Clean Water Act, “to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” cannot be achieved if the Clean Water Act is interpreted in ways contrary to congressional intent when it was enacted into law. The Clean Water Act’s jurisdiction over the waters of the United States must be defended and maintained.
Invest in Infrastructure
Our past investments in water infrastructure must be protected, and provision must be made for future investments to meet the needs of a growing country. Water utilities should use “asset management” principles to ensure plans are in place to assure their long-term maintenance and replacement. Research and development into equipment and treatment technologies must be carried out. Water efficiency standards must be set to ensure that taxpayers get the most value out of their investment in clean water. Infrastructure must be made more resilient to deal with the effects of a changing climate, such as rising sea levels.
Reduce Pollution from “Non-Point” Sources
Reducing the flow of sediment, nutrients, and other pollutants into surface waters from diffuse, “non-point” sources will require a range of strategies at small and large scales, such as incentives for farm conservation practices and “low-impact development” techniques in cities, testing pollution trading within watersheds, and protection of wetlands that filter runoff.
Reduce Pressure on Water Resources
Depletion and degradation pressures on water resources must be addressed. Investing in cleaner energy made in America (see energy policy paper) would reduce airborne pollutants that harm water bodies. Strong prevention and control measures are necessary to roll back the spread of invasive species. Water efficiency standards enhance supplies for homes, farms, and industry, while reducing consumption pressure that harms fisheries. Water must be managed in an integrated fashion that addresses all sources of pressure on our water resources throughout their watersheds.
Water is America’s most valuable resource. The conservative ethic of stewardship calls on us to restore and protect the clean, abundant water that is indispensable for protecting public health, growing food for ourselves and for export, supporting a strong economy, and conserving America’s great natural heritage.
Clean, abundant water is everyone’s responsibility.