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DNREC Secretary calls repeal of Clean Water Rules 'a concern,' while farmers celebrate

Pamela D'Angelo

The federal rollback of a controversial Obama-era Clean Water Act rule is getting mixed reactions in Delaware.


The Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday the repeal of a 2015 rule that expanded the definition of “Waters of the United States” — or WOTUS — under the Clean Water Act. Many programs under the Clean Water Act, like pollutant discharge permits, only apply to Waters of the U.S., according to the EPA. 


Court challenges limited the number of states enforcing the WOTUS rule. Delaware was one, and Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Shawn Garvin says the repeal could call into question the status of thousands of acres of non-tidal wetlands here that were included in the 2015 definition. 


Garvin also points to the repeal’s potential to impact intermittent bodies of water.  


“Some of the upstream— Pennsylvania and New York— intermittent water bodies are a big source of drinking water for ten million people in and around the Delaware basin,” he said. “You start having those being impacted, it could have a profound impact on our ability to provide abundant, safe, and clean drinking water.”


But Garvin says DNREC has not finished determining the potential impacts of the repeal, in part because a replacement rule has yet to be finalized. 


“We’ve made no determination on what, if any, the next steps would be,” he said. “But it is a concern, and we’ve got to figure out to the degree that we might need to address it.”


Some First State farmers are reacting differently. Delaware Farm Bureau president Richard Wilkins is hopeful the replacement rule will be more clear.


“Under the 2015 rule, it was so ambiguous with its different definitions of what was an intermittent stream, what was an ephemeral stream, what was an ephemeral body of water, … that in many cases you hear the landowner didn’t know if they had federally protected water on their land or not,” he said. 


In a statement, Sen. Tom Carper called the repeal a “rebuke of sound science and overwhelming public opinion,” saying it and the EPA’s proposed replacement regulation will jeopardize up to 60 percent of the country’s waterways and wetlands. 


“These waterbodies feed into the drinking water of nearly one in three Americans,” he said. “It is too clear that this repeal is the first step on a slippery slope that will jeopardize public health and the local economies dependent on access to healthy water and viable wetlands.”

The EPA is currently reviewing comments on its proposed replacement rule, which was published earlier this year.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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