Protect our water, protect our health

Updated: July 14, 2015 - 4:24 pm

Currently Congress is debating legislation designed to block important clean water protections recently proposed by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. Unfortunately special interests are waging an all out fight to block implementation of the new Clean Water Rule. The House voted earlier this summer to block the Clean Water Rule and similar legislation is up for a vote before the Senate. Lawsuits are also being prepared.

The new Clean Water Rule will help protect the streams and wetlands that are the headwaters of drinking water supplies for one in three U.S. residents.

As a physician this causes me great concern. Water pollution is endangering the quality of our drinking water and creating hazards in the waters we swim and play in. Clean water is essential for public health and that’s why the new rule is very important.

The original Clean Water Act passed in 1948 (and strengthened in 1972) established national water quality standards and regulated water pollutants.

Unfortunately these protections were seriously weakened by Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. Those decisions impacted protections for 90 percent of Minnesota’s wetlands and 50 percent of our streams.  The Court’s rulings complicated state and local decision-making by requiring authorities to make time-consuming and expensive case-by-case decisions on how to apply the law.

The new Clean Water Rule will help correct these issues.

Action is needed as contaminated drinking water puts millions at risk. Over30 million people depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water and yet theGreat Lakes and many of our streams, lakes and rivers are contaminated with mercury (primarily from coal fired power plants). Mercury, a known neurotoxin that can contribute to preterm deliveries and developmental problems such as lowered IQ and mood and behavioral disorders in children, accumulates in fish. Because of this many states post warnings limiting fish consumption.

Minnesota leads the nation in posted warnings; 97 percent of our rivers and streams, and 95 percent of Minnesota lakes are considered impaired for fish consumption due to excess mercury.

Other important pollutants include nitrates, phosphates and manure from agricultural runoff. High nitrate levels can cause serious illness in infants and very young children.   

A number of Minnesota communities are already facing well water contamination requiring treatment with expensive nitrate removal systems.  

This past May the state of Minnesota released a new report on water quality. Results showed that about half of the waters tested so far are unfit for safe swimming and fishing. Half or fewer of the waters in agricultural and heavily urban watersheds fully support aquatic recreation, mostly due to phosphorus from wastewater and agriculture.

Watersheds with a lot of dense development or agricultural feedlots were most often polluted with excess bacteria such as E. coli, which can be dangerous for humans and pets recreating in our lakes and streams.

The new Clean Water Rule will strengthen efforts to clean up our streams and watersheds. It is the product of years of planning with extensive public input; over 1,200 scientific papers were cited in the report supporting these measures.

As a doctor, I work to prevent disease and promote overall health and wellbeing. The Clean Water Rule strives to do the same- prevent pollution- and promote healthy water resources- by protecting our streams and wetlands. Let’s support Senators Franken and Klobuchar as they work to protect important protections for our water. 

Bruce D. Snyder, MD, FAAN
Member Physicians for Social Responsibility