Coalition Report

By Maisah Khan, MCE
Water Policy Coordinator
Missouri Coalition
for the Environment


Woe is WOTUS — Defending the Clean Water Act in Missouri

Imagine living in a state where you could jump into any river and know that the water was safe to swim in and the fish were safe to eat. What if we made it a 10-year goal to make all waters swimmable and fishable, not only in our state but across the nation? Do you think it could be done?

Turns out, the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 1972 set this very goal over forty years ago. It’s hard to imagine now, but our rivers and streams were once treated more like dumpsters than precious natural resources. Before the CWA was passed in 1972, raw sewage and pollution were dumped straight into the Mississippi River, for example, without consequence. The CWA changed all of that. It passed with broad bipartisan support and put forward this simple, overarching goal: all waters in the U.S. will be fishable and swimmable by 1983.

While we have come a long way since then, we still have a long way to go. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that about half of our streams and rivers in the U.S. are “impaired waters,” in most cases not safe for swimming or fishing. Even with the overall “fishable, swimmable” goal, the act acknowledges that different water bodies may have different pollution limits (or “criteria”) depending on how we use that waterway (it’s “designated use”).

With Missouri home to over 110,000 miles of flowing water, the task of designating a use for all of our waterways is certainly daunting, but luckily the EPA identified a “default use” that we could all strive for: fishing and swimming. But only 45% of Missouri’s waters have a designated use at all, leaving the rest outside the protections offered by the CWA.

While we struggle to protect Missouri’s waters, the Trump Administration is narrowing the definition of “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) under the CWA. The proposal targets small streams and wetlands; if approved, the rule would remove 60 percent of streams and 20 million acres (roughly the size of South Carolina) of wetlands currently under protection. It would have devastating impacts on fish and wildlife habitat, as well as outdoor recreation. We should be doing much more, not less, to protect our waters here in Missouri and across America.

If you agree, visit www.moenvironment.org to learn how to take action.