On September 12, the Trump administration announced final details of its long-planned rollback of the Clean Water Act. Taking us back to pre-1988 levels of protection, the rule opens up 50 percent of stream miles in the lower 48 states and 110 million acres of wetlands to polluters.
This is, of course, billed as a regulatory boon to the oil, gas, mining, and other environmentally-damaging industries. But dirty water doesn’t benefit everyone. Let’s take a look at the industries that will be harmed by these actions.
“Every species of duck, goose, and swan in North America depends on wetlands at some point in its life cycle,” private conservation organization Ducks Unlimited says in a statement. The group is responsible for protecting 14 million acres of wetlands over the last eight decades, work that is now threatened by the Trump administration.
“Most waterfowl breed in or near small wetland complexes,” continues the statement. “These areas provide essential resources such as nesting sites, nutrition for females and their young, and cover to reduce predation.” It’s these small wetland areas that are most at threat under the new rules. Anything that’s not a major body of water is essentially having its protections stripped.
“Nearly two out of every three mallards that hunters harvest in the United States are produced in the Prairie Pothole Region,” the organization details. That region will no longer benefit from Clean Water Act protections. “Biologists estimated that loss of the most vulnerable wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region of North Dakota and South Dakota could result in a 40 percent loss of breeding pairs of waterfowl from that region. If loss of wetlands continues, particularly in the Prairie Pothole Region, shorter waterfowl hunting seasons and smaller bag limits are more likely over the long term.”
Waterfowl hunting is responsible for $3.4 billion in retail sales annually, and 68,000 jobs.
“Trout and salmon depend on the streams targeted by this proposal,” states Trout Unlimited. “And since water flows downstream, weakening the law will ultimately affect many types of recreational fishing.”
“The Clean Water Act, and the 2015 Rule, are vital to TU’s mission, and to anglers across the nation. Whether TU is working with farmers to restore small headwater streams in West Virginia, removing acidic pollution caused by abandoned mines in Pennsylvania, or protecting the world-famous salmon-producing, 14,000-jobs-sustaining watershed of Bristol Bay, Alaska, we rely on the Clean Water Act to safeguard our water quality improvements,” the organization wrote in a letter opposing the new regulations.
Recreational fishing contributed $115 billion to the United States economy in 2013 and supports 563,000 jobs.
“In 2016, commercial and recreational saltwater fishing in the United States generated more than $212 billion in sales and contributed $100 billion to the country’s gross domestic product,” states Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a press release. “These critical industries supported 1.7 million jobs in communities across the country.”
Seventy-five percent of commercially harvested fish are wetlands-dependent. Even ocean-dwelling fish are part of a food chain that often begins in wetlands. That percentage of the harvest that’s wetlands-dependent grows to 95 if you add shellfish to the calculation.
“Beer is mostly water, so the quality of our source water significantly affects our finished product,” members of the craft beer brewing industry write in a letter opposing the new rules. “Compounds present in brewing water can affect pH, color, aroma, and taste. Sulfates make hops taste astringent, while chlorine can create a medicinal off-flavor. The presence of bacteria can spoil a batch of beer. Even small chemical disruptions in our water supply can influence factors like shelf life and foam pattern.”
“Unexpected changes in water quality—due to pollution in our source water, or a change in the treatment process at our local drinking water plant—can threaten our brewing process and our bottom line,” the letter continues. “We need reliable sources of clean water to consistently produce the great beer that is key to our success.”
The craft beer industry contributes $76.2 billion to the American economy each year, supporting more than 500,000 jobs.
“Water quality directly impacts whitewater boaters as they get splashed, flip over, and occasionally swim,” writes American Whitewater, a recreational boating advocacy group. “While all of this is part of the fun, it’s less so if the water that gets into paddler’s mouths, ears, noses, and any cuts is polluted. The issue of protecting water quality is also especially important to boaters because most whitewater rivers and streams can only be descended during higher than normal flows caused by rainfall or during snowmelt. Surface runoff and pollution often spike during these times.”
Watersports support $140 billion in retail spending annually, and 1.2 million jobs.
It’s difficult to estimate the total economic impact clean water brings to the tourism industry each year. But, it can be easy to find instances where dirty water has harmed tourism-dependent economies. In 2014, an algae bloom in Lake Erie caused by agricultural runoff is estimated to have cost businesses in Toledo, Ohio, $3 to $4 million in lost spending—on one weekend alone. The Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico is estimated to have cost Florida $3 billion in lost tourism. A small chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River cost the local economy $19 million per day, 24 percent of the region’s total economic output. The Trump administration’s new CWA rules could damage or eliminate the very features that draw tourists to destinations.
Of course, such a sweeping roll back of Clean Water Act protections won’t just impact the country’s bottom line. The changes could reduce access to clean drinking water for 117 million Americans.