Quick Hit Op-Ed Tuesday December 1st, 2015, 7:53pm

Op-Ed: Clean Water Can’t Wait

The following was co-authored by Congressman Danny Davis (D-IL,7) and Environment Illinois' Brittany King. 

Clean water is the cornerstone of life. We need it for drinking, bathing, eating, playing, brewing, and everything in-between. Unfortunately, Illinois' waterways are in jeopardy now more than ever. From toxic chemicals to combined sewage overflows to factory farm runoff, there is currently more haunting our waters than there is to be thankful for.

As rain returns to Chicago we are faced with the prospect of more and more combined sewage overflows as our water systems are overwhelmed, releasing contaminated water into Lake Michigan. Since 2014, over 20 billion gallons of contaminated water have been released into Lake Michigan. What's even scarier is that 5 million people rely on Lake Michigan for clean drinking water every day.

It's not just Lake Michigan facing threats, however; waterways throughout Illinois are all facing a variety of pollution problems. In fact, these problems plague waterways nationwide.

In the early 2000s two polluter-driven lawsuits created loopholes in the Clean Water Act, leaving over half of our nation's waterways unprotected. Without these protections, developers could build over our wetlands; coal companies, power plants, or meat processing plants could dump into our streams; and federal law couldn't stop them. The loopholes left many rivers and streams across Illinois vulnerable to contamination, threatening the drinking water sources for 1,680,948 Illinoisans.

On August 28th, the Clean Water Rule went into effect. It restored Clean Water Act protections to 48,783 miles of streams across Illinois.  Strengthening protections for the wetlands and streams that feed into Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, and other rivers and lakes popular for tourism; and therefore making local businesses less vulnerable, too.

Unfortunately, on October 9th, a temporary nationwide stay was placed on the Clean Water Rule, leaving our waterways vulnerable once again. Therein lies the systematic problem we are facing. Though a broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, mayors, small businesses, and tens of thousands of Illinoisans supported the implementation of the Clean Water Rule - in fact nationwide the EPA received over 120,000 comments in support of it - a small coalition of big polluters have been able to temporarily derail it.

The clean water protections are facing serious challenges from some in the Congress as well. This fall, we'll need strong environmental leadership in the Senate and House to defend the Clean Water Rule so that all of Illinois' lakes and streams remain protected by the Clean Water Act.

We must do everything we can to foster a strong economy and high quality of life for future generations. To do that we must protect our clean water.

Congressman Danny Davis is the representative for the 7th District of Illinois.

Brittany King is a campaign organizer for Environment Illinois - a statewide, citizen-funded advocacy organization working for the places we love and the environmental values we share.

Image: flickr/chascarper


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