Clean Water Restoration Act needs Congressional support

The Emerald Necklace, along which the Muddy River flows from Jamaica Pond to the Charles, is a hallmark of Boston’s urban park system. Jamaica Pond provides the neighborhood with a place to boat, fish or just take a stroll in a quiet and beautiful place on a Sunday afternoon.

Jamaica Plain residents care about the pond so much they may have been surprised to hear about the problem of storm sewers (“Storm sewers drain into pond,” Jan. 22 JP Gazette). The proposed Muddy River Restoration Project would dredge contaminated sediments and implement better maintenance practices including more frequent street sweeping and catch basin cleaning. Jamaica Pond and the Emerald Necklace provide us with so much, and all our state waterways deserve the same care.

Yet across Massachusetts, ponds, streams and wetlands are threatened by many problems: toxic chemicals, runoff pollution and sewage overflows. Polluters continue to dump directly into our waterways and into the streams that feed them. In 2007, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory for that year, industrial facilities dumped over 12,700 pounds of toxic chemicals into Massachusetts’ waterways. We have regulations on the books to protect our rivers, lakes and streams. Unfortunately, over the last 10 years the protections have been weakened, allowing polluters to dump unlimited pollution in the streams and wetlands that feed our larger waterways.

The Clean Water Act is the key piece of legislation designed to protect our waters. It was passed in 1972 during a time when America’s rivers were so polluted that some, like Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, caught on fire. We have come a long way in 30 years. Unfortunately, recent Supreme Court decisions have set us back—taking away Clean Water Act protections for thousands of streams and millions of acres of wetlands. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Water Act may no longer protect 52 percent of Massachusetts’ streams. With over 48,000 acres of wetlands in Massachusetts, we stand a lot to lose from these rollbacks.

This year we have an opportunity to restore the Clean Water Act to its original intent and once again protect all our waterways by passing the Clean Water Restoration Act. This simple bill reaffirms that all, not just some, of our waters are protected by the Clean Water Act. It restores the original intent of the law, clearly protecting what was protected before the Supreme Court’s 2001 decision.

This important legislation is now is set to be taken up by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. We applaud US Rep. Mike Capuano, whose district includes Jamaica Plain, for co-sponsoring this bill in 2007, and urge him to continue to protect America’s waters by helping this bill pass now. We need Congress to act now to preserve Boston’s ponds and rivers, and protect all of America’s waterways. Congressman Capuano should reflect the care that Boston has taken for its waterways by taking the lead on this issue in DC.

Eleanor Fort
Jamaica Plain

The writer is preservation associate at Environment Massachusetts in downtown Boston.

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