Opinion

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Guest Column

Protect Our Water Quality

An omnibus budget bill in Congress could include several policy riders that will undermine Clean Water Act safeguards

Whenever I fish the Flathead River or one of the forks, I marvel at the clarity of the water and I am always delighted when I see a native westslope cutthroat trout rise from the beautiful colored cobble at the bottom of the river to check out my fly. When I’m on the water, the federal budget process is usually the furthest thing from my mind – and that’s the way I prefer it.

Sadly, the omnibus budget bill coming to a head in Congress right now could include several policy riders that will undermine Clean Water Act safeguards and set a terrible precedent for our nation. These riders are bad for fish, bad for fishing, and bad for families in Montana.

These riders are broadly unpopular with the American public – they could never pass the House or the Senate on a stand-alone vote. For that reason, some in Congress are inclined to sneak these dirty water riders into the budget, where they hide in plain sight, obscured by the bigger fights. While there are other troubling elements in the budget, I want to focus on two riders that are of particular importance to anglers – and to everyone who cares about clean water and healthy rivers.

A recent Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership poll found that four out of five anglers and hunters support Clean Water Act protections for smaller streams and wetlands. Sadly, the current administration is trying to repeal the Clean Water Rule, which clarifies and ensures exactly those types of protections. Many hunters and anglers joined the nearly 800,000 Americans who commented in favor of the Clean Water Rule before it was finalized in 2015.

The widespread support for clean water is an obstacle to its repeal, because the law requires federal agencies to listen to public input and to provide a sound rationale for their actions before repealing a final rule. However, Congress is considering a rider that would give the administration a free pass to repeal the Clean Water Rule without a clear rationale and without due consideration of the public input. This rider would also block the courts’ ability to review the agencies’ repeal action as potentially “arbitrary or capricious.” This rider is not just irresponsible; it is undemocratic.

Another rider adds insult to injury for anglers and the nation’s waters. Anglers like me prefer our waters to be full of fish, not muck. This rider would allow polluters to more easily dump dredged or fill material into streams and wetlands, putting our waters at risk. If this rider becomes law, America’s waters – and our drinking water quality –will suffer.

Some members of Congress are clearly hoping that anglers and other Americans won’t pay attention to the March Madness of wrangling over the federal budget. But we cannot afford to stay silent. We need Montana’s senators and representatives to stand up against these and any other policy riders that attack or undermine safeguards for the nation’s streams, wetlands, lakes, and rivers.

Larry Timchak is the president of Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited.

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