Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Tuesday, December 10, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 29° Partly Cloudy

Outdoors blog

Trump rollback on Clean Water Rule could impact Pacific Northwest salmon, steelhead

Sockeye salmon in spawning area. (Associated Press)
Sockeye salmon in spawning area. (Associated Press)

UPDATED 12:01 p.m.

FISHING – Today President Trump signed an executive order that will begin to unravel some protections of the Clean Water Rule for headwater streams, according to Trout Unlimited.

The national fish and water quality advocacy group and other sportsman and conservation organizations are more than a little bit alarmed about the potential outcome, including impacts on wetlands.

  • Click here to read the joint statement from Trout Unlimited, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, American Fly Fishing Trade Association, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Izaak Walton League and National Wildlife Federation.

Here's what TU leaders  are saying about the action.

Chris Wood, TU president and CEO:

The Clean Water Rule was finalized in 2015 after more than one million public comments and extensive scientific review. It provides protection to streams and rivers including 60 percent of the stream miles in the U.S. that flow seasonally. Protecting these headwaters is important not only to anglers, but also to the one in three Americans whose drinking water comes from small seasonal streams.

The Executive Order directs the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA to rescind and revise the Clean Water Rule. It also directs the agencies to use former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s minority opinion that said seasonal streams do not merit protection, as a basis for the revision.

If Justice Scalia’s direction is followed, 60 percent of U.S. streams and 20 million acres of wetlands would lose protection of the Clean Water Act; an unmitigated disaster for fish and wildlife, hunting and fishing, and clean water.

Sportsmen and women have a simple question for the President and EPA Administrator Pruitt: are we going forward or backward on clean water? Today’s announcement is a big step back. Legally, scientifically, and logically a reliance on Justice Scalia’s opinion is wrong-headed—but there’s still time, working through the new rulemaking process, to make it right.

When the new Administration replaces the Clean Water Rule, it must listen to the voices of tens of millions of sportsmen and women who want more clean water, more fish and wildlife habitat, and more hunting and angling opportunities. The Trump Administration can change direction on this Rule but they can’t change the fact that clean water is not a political issue. It is a basic right of every American.

Gravity works cheap, and it never takes a day off. The Administration cannot stop water flowing downhill—and we all live downstream. To be effective, the Clean Water Act must be able to control pollution at its source, upstream in the headwaters and wetlands that flow downstream through communities to our major lakes, rivers, and bays. The Administration’s action places the health of 60 percent of the stream miles in the U.S. at risk. Trout Unlimited intends to work with our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters to reverse course on this misguided direction."

On the other hand, the The Heartland Institute – a free-market think tank -- says Trump is on the right track on reducing EPA regulations. Says Isaac Orr, the institute's research fellow for energy and environment policy,

President Trump is making good on his campaign promise to roll back regulations that hurt farmers, ranchers, manufacturers and anyone else who gets their hands dirty at work. The Waters of the United States rule would have turned control of the nation’s water supply to an unelected bureaucracy that is out of touch with rural America.”

Rob Masonis, TU's vice president of Western Conservation and founder of TU's Wild Steelhead Initiative

“Anglers understand that healthy fish populations require high quality habitat and clean water.  Salmon and trout don’t just live in big rivers and lakes, they often spawn in small streams, some of which go completely dry during the summer, and those same streams act as nurseries for young fish during the wet months.  If we don’t protect small headwater streams and the wetlands that feed them, we imperil our fisheries and undermine the enormous investments we have made to recover salmon and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.”

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership also is concerned:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today President Trump issued an executive order directing the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers to revise their 2015 Clean Water Rule, which was created to clarify protections for headwater streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The order directs the agencies to consider using former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's minority opinion, which said that seasonal streams and many wetlands do not merit protection, as a basis for revising the rule.

“Sportsmen will not settle for watered down protections or negligence for the habitat that supports the fish and wildlife we love to pursue,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, which joined five other leading sportsmen’s groups in issuing a joint statement of support for the benefits of the Clean Water Rule.

Two years ago, sportsmen, conservation groups, and many other stakeholders generated one million public comments that helped to shape the final rule, which was broadly celebrated for restoring protections to 60 percent of America’s stream miles and 20 million acres of wetlands previously at greater risk of being polluted or destroyed because of jurisdictional confusion. Since May 2015, there have been several legislative plays and lawsuits filed to block or roll back the rule.

“If this administration wants to put its stamp on the rule, they should honor the years of solutions-oriented consensus on the need to reverse wetlands loss, which has been fueled by legal and regulatory confusion. More clarity for headwater streams and wetlands protections should be the baseline standard from which to improve the rule, not the target of a tear-down,” says Fosburgh.

It remains to be seen if it is even legal to ignore the majority position on a Supreme Court case. Meanwhile, the health of fish and wildlife habitat is the infrastructure of an outdoor recreation industry that fuels $646 billion in annual spending and supports more than 6 million American jobs.



Rich Landers
Rich Landers joined The Spokesman-Review in 1977. He is the Outdoors editor for the Sports Department writing and photographing stories about hiking, hunting, fishing, boating, conservation, nature and wildlife and related topics.

Follow Rich online:




Go to the full Outdoors page