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Information acquired thru the Illinois Master Naturalist Program





“Small streams and wetlands in the upper reaches of our watersheds often account for the vast majority of the chemical, physical, and biological activity that takes place throughout the water cycle. These waters provide the foundation of the food chain upon which aquatic life depends. They filter pollutants, store flood waters, and recharge flow in our greatest waterways. Just as our circulatory system cannot function without its capillaries, the water cycle cannot function without its smaller waters.” From “Courting Disaster” April 2009 at www.nwf.org, a report prepared for Earthjustice, Environment America, Clean Water Action, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra club, and Southern Environmental Law Center.


Recognizing the importance of protecting our surface waters, Congress passed the Clean Water Act of 1972. Cleaning up our nation’s water ways is ongoing and has been successful largely because efforts have been directed to every water body, small and large. In 2001 and 2006 two cases were brought to the Supreme Court challenging the application of the act to small water bodies. The ruling at that time placed limits on the Act and new policies were issued that made it more difficult to protect tributaries and wetlands that feed larger water bodies.


Approximately 20 percent of the over 100 million acres of wetlands in the U.S. are “isolated” according to the USEPA and, under the new policies, could not be protected by the Act. An estimated 60 percent of the stream miles in the U.S. do not flow year-round and likewise could not be protected. These are water bodies that contribute vital functions in the water cycle and provide essential habitat to much wildlife.


For most Illinoisans, surface waters are the source of drinking water. The exceptions to using surface water for drinking water are northwest Illinois and very rural areas that depend on well water. In the U.S. 111 million persons, according to USEPA, depend on public water supplies that are fed by streams that flow only part of the year making them particularly vulnerable to pollution.


The Environmental and Public Works Committee of the U.S. Senate has determined that there should be a Clean Water Restoration Act (SB 787) to accompany the Clean Water Act of 1972 and to more clearly define that the provisions of the Act cover all surface waters. This legislation, now before legislators, would also support Congress’ authority to protect our nation’s surface waters.


Many grave issues are facing our nation today. We must face the need to support ideas, planning, and legislation that will help us to sustain healthy lives where we live. All Americans have a stake in quality drinking water. We can do our part by protecting the surface waters where good drinking water begins – wherever rainfall runs over the land.




Della Moen, Earth Team Volunteer, NRCS/Stephenson Soil and Water


Conservation District, an equal opportunity provider and employer, 05/07/09 (for publication on 05/16/09 in the Journal-Standard, Freeport, Illinois). Della can be reached at info@stephensonswcd.org




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