Logging roads and the Clean Water Act
This year promises to be a busy time for those working to protect rivers, streams and salmon from logging road pollution.
Logging roads are a major source of pollution in our rivers and streams. They push sediment into water, suffocating salmon and sullying drinking water sources when they are constructed, but they also divert sediment into clean water sources, particularly when being actively used by logging trucks. It seems only fair that this industry would have to comply with the Clean Water Act like so many other industries in America.
In May 2011, in a case called Northwest Environmental Defense Center v. Brown, the Ninth Circuit ruled that EPA regulations require Clean Water Act permits for polluted stormwater discharged from pipes, ditches and channels along logging roads. The Clean Water Act's permit system regulates pollution so that we protect this finite resource for fishing, drinking and swimming.
In response to the NEDC v. Brown decision, EPA recently sent a draft notice of intent to regulate logging road pollution to the White House Office of Management and Budget. Although details are not yet public, in a press release EPA stated that it "is considering flexible options including non-permitting options."
Click here to sign a petition to the EPA asking that they ensure that industrial logging road pollution remains regulated under the Clean Water Act’s permit program. Tell them you oppose efforts to exempt the timber industry and logging roads from the Clean Water Act.
Read on for more details about this issue
Clean, drinkable water is a finite resource—increasingly important to preserve and protect, not only for agricultural, industrial, ecological, and recreational uses, but also for safe and healthy human consumption. More than 180 million Americans depend on headwaters from both protected and unprotected forests for their drinking water.
Sediment and other pollutants discharged from logging roads pose a problem because they threaten the health of endangered species and delicate ecosystems while also threatening the quality of clean public drinking water supplies. Sediment associated with logging is a well-documented threat to water quality. On logging roads actively used for timber hauling, logging trucks grind up the gravel road surface, turning it into fine sediment that is often then transported by stormwater to rivers and streams.
Such chronic sedimentation has detrimental effects such as smothering fish eggs and increasing turbidity, which disrupts fish feeding, breeding, and migrating behavior (especially for salmon, many of which are at risk of extinction). Chronic sedimentation effectively chokes the life out of cold-water rivers and streams by decreasing dissolved oxygen levels, increasing temperature, and destroying essential habitat.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that each year over 2.7 million people participate in hunting, fishing, and wildlife watching in Washington State alone, contributing over $3 billion to that state’s economy. Across the West, the harm and reduction to fish could translate into a major economic loss for tourism, the fishing industry, state wildlife agencies, and the local communities that depend on these revenues.
In Oregon, based on information the state submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency in 2006, sediment was the second leading cause of pollution in rivers and streams, accounting for almost 12,000 miles of streams threatened or impaired. While not all of this sediment was generated by logging roads, the roads are a major contributor of sediment in the West due to an enormous road system that is poorly maintained.
The Clean Water Act’s NPDES permit program provides the right tool to address this problem. As Congress intended, the Clean Water Act is an extremely effective mechanism for reducing pollution and protecting clean water. NPDES permits are proven, effective, efficient, and manageable by state and federal agencies.
EPA and the states have crafted workable permit solutions to handle many different types of pollutant discharge issues many times in the past, including dealing with complex municipal storm water issues, runoff from industrial facilities (including associated roads) and runoff from construction sites larger than 1 acre (including associated roads). Creating a specific permit to deal with logging roads should be no different. EPA and state agencies must move forward now to develop NPDES storm water permits for logging roads.
Logging companies should not get a free pass
The implementation of this ruling will include a cost to the regulated industry, but the process of regulating and monitoring pollution under a NPDES permit will not only create sustainable and local green jobs, it is also the only effective means to protect the public’s water supply and fisheries. A special exemption from the Clean Water Act for this industry would allow polluters to continue damaging our Nation’s waters and harming salmon and steelhead populations with little control or oversight. The failure to regulate storm water pollution from logging roads would also allow continued impacts to the drinking water supplies for millions of Americans throughout the country.
The Clean Water Act turns 40
Forty years ago, Congress signed into law a historic piece of legislation that would turn the tide of our polluted waterways. Prior to the Clean Water Act’s enactment, the Cuyahoga River was burning, the Hudson River’s fishery was gone and Lake Erie was declared all but dead. This bold legislation put forward by visionaries in Congress returned control of our nation’s waterways to the citizens as part of the public trust. While this cornerstone law has helped us make progress in cleaning up our waterways, our streams and rivers remain threatened by a variety of pollutants, many of our fisheries are near extinction and some members of the U.S. Congress, pressured by polluting industries, are working hard to erode the protections of this important law.
The Waterkeeper Alliance’s Clean Water Act 40 campaign was designed to mark the law’s 40th anniversary by celebrating, activating and advocating around the central tenets of the Act: swimmable, drinkable, fishable waters for all. To make the most of this opportunity, the campaign is educating the public about the importance of the Act and empowering communities to influence national leaders from a policy and enforcement perspective.