Clean water act must consider sportsmen

Rep. Bill Shuster held a field hearing in Altoona last month to discuss the “federal overreach” of the Environmental Protection Agency.

As a local business owner and avid angler, I want to share another side of the story which is unlikely to be heard in a setting that will almost certainly dominated by industry voices. The hearing will challenge the restrictions on the polluting, dredging, and filling of streams imposed by the Clean Water Act.

Critics often suggest that these restrictions result in significant burdens for insignificant streams, but I disagree.

I’ve often seen our state’s native brook trout in many of these small, sometimes seasonally flowing streams. While these streams may seem small, they combine to form our larger rivers.

Protecting the water quality of small streams means protecting it for our state’s largest rivers. In the 1970s, the idea that the Little Juniata would be fishable or swimmable was almost impossible to believe.

Today it’s a renowned trout stream thanks to the Clean Water Act.

My business conducts land surveys, land development plans and permitting plans for many types of Clean Water Act compliance requirements. I am not opposed to natural gas pipelines or hydraulic fracturing. I only wish for it to be done in a way that protects our best fisheries and ecosystems.

Central to that challenge is defining which waters qualify for the protections of the Clean Water Act. That’s why I’m thanking the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers for their recent proposal to clarify the waters covered under the act. After a series of Supreme Court decisions, some seasonally flowing streams protections have been jeopardized.

The EPA and Corps’ rule will restore protections to these streams. It is not an overreach of the federal government, but a simple restoration to the way things used to be for three out of the four decades the Clean Water Act existed.

These waters that are important for anglers across the state were protected, they lost those protections, and now they’re regaining them. It’s that simple.

We understand the challenges faced by industry, but intimately know how important it is to protect small streams.

We worry that if developers do not follow the right rules when building infrastructure, they will leave behind a legacy like that of many abandoned mines, where the state and conservation groups are left to clean up a polluted mess.

We’re still recovering from the damage done by mines that are decades and even a century old. The Stonycreek River was named the “River of the Year” for Pennsylvania in 2012. It was completely polluted by acid mine drainage in the early and mid 1900s.

Today because of the Clean Water Act, much of the river supports healthy fish populations and even wild rainbow trout.

We’re not just looking out for our personal hobbies. There are 1.1 million anglers in Pennsylvania, and they spend an average of $485 million yearly on equipment and trips. That doesn’t count the license money that goes back to conservation, the taxes they pay, or the impact they have when dollars spent at gas stations and motels trickle throughout the community.

As Shuster continues to discuss the Clean Water Act, we ask him to consider sportsmen’s views that it is an essential tool for protecting the places we love to visit and fish, and we usually bring our wallets along. We hope he will stand up for our interests as well as industry’s.

Jeff Ripple