On September 2, ARA’s executive director, Cindy Lowry, submitted verbal comments at EPA’s Public Hearing Revising the Definition of “Waters of the United States”. Click here to watch a recording of the hearing [link coming soon!]
My name is Cindy Lowry and I am the Executive Director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, a statewide nonprofit network of watershed and community-based organizations working to advocate for clean water and healthy rivers. We are headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama. I have been in this position for 15 years and have worked with environmental nonprofits in Alabama for more than 20 years.
Alabama is state with more than 132,000 miles of rivers and streams. That large number indicates that many of our streams are small streams that are intermittent or ephemeral. We also boast the number one spot in the nation when it comes to freshwater biodiversity. That number is primarily due to those intermittent and ephemeral streams and the ecological function they play in providing life cycle habitat and resources for fish, snails, darters, crayfish and other critters that rely on them. And let’s not forget the importance of the many wetland areas that occur across our hydrologically and geologically diverse state also playing an essential role in ecological function and services.
But in my role, I not only work to protect water for aquatic species, I work to protect water for people and communities across Alabama. Over half of Alabamians get their drinking water from surface waters. Those rivers and reservoirs are fed by tributaries that are fed by small streams that are fed by even smaller streams.
In my experience in working with communities, river groups, and individuals across Alabama, the problems we hear about are not happening only on the large traditionally navigable waterways. Pollution discharges, especially illegal discharges, runoff, and other activities that can cause harm often occur in smaller less noticeable streams.
These past few years in Alabama we have seen constant rain, damaging flooding, and several extreme weather events. We can only expect these types of events to become more the norm than the exception as climate change impacts our state and our region. This means more of our intermittent and ephemeral streams are flowing and whatever is in that water impacts everyone and everything downstream. But even in years of less rain and drought, a sometimes-dry stream does not need less protection.
I grew up in a small town in Alabama and I spent many hours playing in what some would call ditches, but in reality, they were these same small streams that we are talking about. And believe it or not in spite of video games, one of my nephew’s favorite pastimes is fishing in the little streams around his suburban neighborhood.
We all know that impacts from polluted waterways and from climate change fall hardest on communities of low wealth and communities of color. Now is not the time to leave any of our waterways or wetlands vulnerable and without protection. In fact, now is the time to ensure that strong protections are in place so ALL of our communities have a fighting chance against climate change.
A federal court recently invalidated the Trump Administration’s rule regarding this matter. There is now evidence demonstrating how much this rule reduced the protections of the Clean Water Act. On behalf of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, our hundreds of individuals members and over 50 local partner organizations, I urge you to develop a strong rule that protects intermittent and ephemeral streams and wetlands which in turn will protect all communities and the most vulnerable ecosystems from harmful pollution and the ever increasing impacts of climate change.