Trump’s water policy jeopardizes Georgia’s clean water, says Georgia Water Coalition

By David Pendered

Environmental attorney Bill Sapp doesn’t mince words when he describes President Trump’s plan to roll back the clean water rule established during the Obama administration: “What the current administration is doing is jeopardizing clean water in this state.”

St. Marys Spoonbill

Roseate spoonbills are very rare after their population collapsed in the late 1800s. They are vulnerable to degradating of feeding and nesting habitats, such as this area near St. Mary’s, according to Audubon. Credit: Bill Sublette

Jeopardizing clean water all the way from the tiniest rivulet in North Georgia, throughout wetlands in Middle Georgia, and all the way into coastal marshes and rivers including the Chatooga and Coosa, the Savannah, the Altamaha, the Satilla, and the Flint and Suwanee as they enter Florida, according to Sapp.

Georgians from every walk of life should be concerned about the Trump administration’s plan to remove environmental protections from wetlands and waterways, according to Sapp. Sapp serves as a senior attorney specializing in wetlands and coastal issues in the Atlanta office of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

“It’s important from a recreational perspective, a business perspective and an environmental perspective that these systems be viewed as a whole, and protected from their source,” Sapp said.

Trump’s policy also flies in the face of efforts by many Georgians to tend to the state’s natural resources, Sapp said.

“Georgians have demonstrated that they are good stewards of the land,” Sapp said. “They appreciate being able to hunt duck and fish for trout, and use paddleboards and canoes, and bird watch. Georgians recognize that for these activities, it’s vital to have clean water.”

Georgia’s half-million acres of marshland is the second largest amount of salt marshes in the U.S. and comprises about a third of all the salt marshes on the east coast. These marshes are near Savannah. Credit: Robert Llewellyn

Sapp successfully nominated the Trump administration’s proposals to the 2017 edition of Georgia’s Dirty Dozen. The list, released last week, highlights what the Georgia Water Coalition deems the year’s 12 most egregious “offenses against Georgia’s water.”

The Georgia Water Coalition was formed in 2002 and is comprised of more than 240 groups that represent conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing entities, business and faith-based organizations, according to a description in the report.

The clean water rule seems to be one of those subjects that once enjoyed bi-partisan support in Washington. The rule resulted from guidance provided by the U.S. Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The rule was established in 2015 to identify the waters that are to be protected under the federal Clean Water Act – which was enacted by the Nixon administration in 1972.

Though the rule was implemented under Obama, the George W. Bush administration started the rule-making process to clarify confusion that resulted from two rulings by the Supreme Court, Sapp said.

Supreme Court rulings in 2001 and 2006 created the confusion over the extent of waters to be protected. The 2006 case resulted in no majority position being reached, and with two justices presenting two vastly different notions of what water is protected.

Alligator Cumberland Island

The marshland on Cumberland Island supports an array of wildlife, including alligators. Credit: Charles Shoffner

Justice Antonin Scalia’s position is the one now heralded by the Trump administration. It contends the Clean Water Act extends only to permanent waters. Tiny trout streams in North Georgia would not be protected because the water flow in them is intermittent, Sapp said. Wetlands that aren’t adjacent to constantly flowing water would not be protected.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the position that influenced the clean water rule established in 2015. It contends that the nation’s water resources represent a connected resource, and that water bodies that have a significant connection to navigable waters should be protected under the Clean Water Act. This is the position that Trump’s administration intends to jettison.

The Dirty Dozen report issues a call to action. The EPA is to issue a proposed replacement rule in early 2018, according to the report. A 60-day comment period will follow, during which time the report says:

  • “Georgians who care about their drinking water, their favorite shing spots, boating trails and swimming holes must send a clear message to EPA, Congress and state leaders: protect our water; don’t change the Waters of the U.S. rule.”


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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