I grew up in Santa Paula, a small agricultural community in Southern California. At a very young age we were taught about the important role that water plays not only on our community's economy, but in our daily lives. In agricultural production, water is everything.
You don't have to grow up in a farm town though to understand that clean water is fundamental to our daily lives. The recent chemical spill in West Virginia, which left over 300,000 of that state's residents without usable water for weeks on end made that point catastrophically clear for many. The sad reality is that the experiences of those West Virginians are shared in many communities across this nation on a daily basis. The Clean Water Act -- a key environmental law that Congress passed in the '70s to protect our nation's clean water resources -- is fundamentally broken.
Drinking water sources of over 117 million Americans are in peril, unprotected by the Clean Water Act and at risk to harmful chemicals. You may be wondering, perhaps as you sip a cup of coffee or drink a cup of tea, 'Where did we go wrong?' The answer rests in a small but important section of the Act that defines "waters of the United States." During the Bush administration, as a gift to water polluters nationwide, the EPA rushed through two controversial rules that narrowly defined "waters of the United States" under the Clean Water Act and removed its coverage of much of our nation's water bodies. Because of this, today more than 59 percent of U.S. streams and 20 million acres of wetlands are vulnerable to toxic pollution.
Our families and communities have been feeling the loss of clean water protections. Today, more than 55 percent of our rivers and streams are rated in "poor" condition and considered unfit for drinking water, swimming, or fishing. Our waters have gotten dirtier, making it clear that we desperately need these protections back.
Thankfully, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has finally taken steps to rectify this situation and restore the original intent (along with its coverage) of the Clean Water Act to many of the waters left vulnerable by the Bush rule. Today EPA proposed a draft rule, known as the "Waters of the U.S." rule, which defines waters of the U.S. in an evidence-based and scientifically accurate manner. The rule is based on extensive peer-reviewed scientific studies that affirm what common sense has long told us: If we want clean water for our communities and families, we must protect the vital streams and wetlands that flow into our drinking water sources. Before releasing this rule, the EPA heard from hundreds of thousands of concerned members of the public through hearings and public comments. They demand stronger clean water protections.
The Waters of the U.S. rule will restore Clean Water Act coverage to many of our nation's water bodies, ensuring that families, anglers, and recreationalists who value and rely upon safe and clean water can know that their waters are protected. The rule will also provide certainty to small businesses, ranchers, and farmers who, like all of us, rely on clean water supplies to thrive in their enterprises. The draft rule is a positive step forward in making sure that clean water is able to be enjoyed by all for many generations to come.
EPA will be soliciting public comment on their proposed rule, as is required under the rulemaking process. I am sure that toxic polluters who have benefited from the loopholes currently in place will be pressuring the administration to keep the status quo or weaken the rule. I know I will be encouraging my family and friends back home to share their views on this rule with the EPA and tell them why protecting clean water is so essential to us all.