On Wednesday, April 29, 15 leading river conservation groups, including the James River Association (JRA), challenged the EPA’s efforts to severely limit what waters are protected by the Clean Water Act.

The drastic rollback removes federal protections for the majority of wetlands and many smaller streams, including up to 16,500 miles of streams in the James River watershed.

The Clean Water Act and its protections have allowed the James River to change from one of the Nation’s most polluted rivers to a cherished centerpiece of Virginia, celebrated by Congress as “America’s Founding River.” The James River provides drinking water for 2.7 million Virginians, is a vital asset to its communities and local economies and it has received international recognition for the scope of its recovery.

Jamie Brunkow, James Riverkeeper and Senior Advocacy Manager, issued the following statement: “Clean drinking water, a fishable and swimmable James River, increased river-based tourism and economic development – all of these we owe to the protections of the federal Clean Water Act. The EPA’s rule puts our local waterways at risk and threatens to erode decades of progress to restore the health of the James River. Despite the EPA’s rollback, James River Association will work to continue protections of critical headwater streams and wetlands, which science shows, support downstream water quality and a healthy James River.”

Fortunately, the James River and all of Virginia’s rivers can continue to benefit from strong state laws, including Virginia’s nontidal wetlands regulations, which recognize the invaluable ecological importance of isolated wetlands. But the federal protections provided by the Clean Water Act are the backbone of all water quality conservation, at the national, state, and local level. A loss of federal coverage, as announced by the EPA, would undermine the authority of state protections, create confusion for regulated communities, and place an outsized burden and expense on local and state governments.

The 15 conservation groups involved in the challenge include American Rivers, Charleston Waterkeeper, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Clean Water Action, Defenders of Wildlife, Environment America, Friends of the Rappahannock, James River Association, National Wildlife Federation, North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, Roanoke River Basin Association, South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“America’s Founding River has nurtured us for generations and we must ensure that a healthy James River endures for generations to come,” concluded Brunkow. “The Clean Water Act protections are too important to take away from the vital headwater streams that are the very source of the James River.”