Clean water groups highlight progress for Connecticut’s waters, call for more success stories

New Haven, CT – Following the 42nd anniversary of the Clean Water Act, a new report tells the story of how the bedrock environmental law has helped to restore and protect Connecticut’s waters by mandating public input before the renewal of pollution discharge permits.

Today, on the shore of Long Island Sound, Environment Connecticut released its newest report alongside U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Fund for the Environment, and the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut. Waterways Restored, a series of case studies compiled by Environment Connecticut’s Research & Policy Center, highlights the need for a new rule to restore federal protections for 52% of the state’s rivers and streams.

“The Clean Water Act has brought progress to Long Island Sound, but the law’s promise isn’t yet fulfilled,” said Jessie Mehrhoff, Clean Water Organizer with Environment Connecticut. “All of our rivers and streams deserve a success story.”

Long Island Sound, in addition to wetlands, rivers, and many other waterways are protected from pollution running off of construction sites during storms thanks to the Clean Water Act’s requirement for public comments on pollution permits.

“Under the Clean Water Act’s citizen provisions, Connecticut Fund for the Environment has stopped toxic discharges into the Naugatuck River and Long Island Sound. We've also brought legal actions against businesses that were polluting waterways with industrial stormwater, and required controls to stop polluted runoff from new construction sites. In each of these cases, the state and federal government declined to act on its own, so without the Clean Water Act's citizen suit and comment provisions, the pollution would have continued,” said Roger Reynolds, Legal Director of Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

While Long Island Sound is guaranteed protection under the Clean Water Act, more than 3,000 miles of Connecticut’s rivers and streams are not, thanks to a loophole in the law secured by developers and other polluters nearly a decade ago.

In March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to restore protections for the headwaters, streams, and wetlands left in limbo by the loophole. But oil companies, agribusinesses, and developers are campaigning bitterly against it, and last month the U.S. House voted to block the rule.   

Advocates at today’s event, however, stressed broad support for the proposal from environmental groups, farmers, small businesses, and ordinary citizens. In October, over 12,000 supportive public comments collected by Environment Connecticut were among the 700,000 delivered to EPA officials in Washington, DC.

“Effectively enforcing the Clean Water Act to restore our state’s waterways requires strong rules—and citizen activists urging them. I am grateful to all of the environmental advocates working to reclaim and reinvigorate our rivers and streams, represented by Environment Connecticut,” said Senator Blumenthal.

"We see the proposed EPA rule as the single most important step taken by the EPA in the last ten years to protect our national waters,” said Margaret Miner of the Rivers Alliance of Connecticut. “Court rulings have muddled the meaning of the Clean Water Act to the point that river advocates aren't sure what the law says. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy herself, in a recent visit to the Connecticut shoreline, stressed the importance of legal clarity and affirmation of the ability of the Clean Water Act to protect upland wetlands and streams."

While Long Island Sound is getting cleaner, polluters still dump about 200,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways statewide each year. Protection from pollution and development for the smaller streams that flow into Long Island Sound, advocates said today, is crucial to protecting the state’s waterways for future generations.

“50 years ago, Connecticut’s rivers were virtually unrecognizable, choking and blighted with toxic pollutants that rendered them all but lifeless,” said U.S. Senator Chris Murphy. “The Clean Water Act began the healing of our rivers, and the time has come to ensure that we also protect the complex watershed systems that feed and replenish them.”

“The only way to continue Long Island Sound on the path to success is to protect all the rivers and streams that flow into it,” said Mehrhoff. “That’s why it’s so important for EPA to restore protections for all the waters that crisscross our state.”