‘A Lovely Spot, Let’s Spoil It!’
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‘A Lovely Spot, Let’s Spoil It!’

Oregon’s Pristine Crater Lake Is Just One of the Natural Wonders the Biden Administration Now Must Save from Trump’s EPA

Sarah Okeson

Sarah Okeson

Crater Lake in Oregon, fed by rain and snow, is one of the most pristine lakes on earth. But environmentalists say it could be befouled because it doesn’t meet the perverted definition of protected waters written by the Trump EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Clean water advocates are pushing President Joe Biden’s administration to undo Trump’s pro-polluter “Dirty Water Rule” that ignored decades of EPA practices and the findings of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed articles.

The Waterkeeper Alliance, a nonprofit formed to protect water, and other environmental organizations sued the EPA and the Corps in federal court in northern California over the rule. The case is on hold while the Biden administration evaluates the rule.

“Crater Lake is an example that we found, but there are lots of other examples,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, a senior attorney with the Waterkeeper Alliance.

ACTION BOX / What You Can Do About It

Little Lost River, Idaho (USGS)

Tell EPA Acting Administrator Jane Nishida your thoughts on protecting our nation’s water. Call her at 202-564-4700 or write to her at EPA Headquarters, William Jefferson Clinton Building, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Mail Code 1101A, Washington, D.C. 20460.

Contact the Waterkeeper Alliance at 212-747-0622 or [email protected]


Environmentalists say the Dirty Water Rule eliminates federal protections for more than 1 million miles of streams, half our nation’s wetlands and public lakes.

“It’s a very extreme interpretation of waters of the United States,” said Stuart Wilcox, an attorney for Environmental Advocates who is involved in the California lawsuit.

Other bodies of water that lost protection under the Dirty Water Rule include:

  • Delmarva bays, sometimes called whale wallows because of the questionable belief that they were made by beached whales. Scientists now say they were made by wind during the Pleistocene Era 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago. These bays, like pocosins and prairie potholes, are havens for migratory birds and rare species. They also help trap nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen that contribute to dead zones like the one in the Gulf of Mexico where fish and other living things must swim away or die.
  • The Little Lost River in Idaho, known for its rainbow and bull trout, which runs for about 49 miles before it goes underground. Trump’s Dirty Water Rule doesn’t protect tributaries and streams that don’t directly connect to navigable waters.

President William McKinley signed the first law about water pollution, the Rivers and Harbors Act, in 1899. The law prohibited dumping garbage into rivers and other bodies of water so that boats could operate. Liquid sewage was OK.

For decades, much of our nation’s laws about pollution were focused on whether rivers and lakes were navigable. Lawsuits about water are filled with references to boats such as flat-bottomed schooners, floating dredges and kayaks.

Crater Lake, formed by the collapse of a volcano about 7,700 years ago, is considered a “closed basin” because it doesn’t have a direct connection to a navigable river. Other “closed basins” are in Idaho and New Mexico.

Waters like Crater Lake were traditionally protected because of their impact on interstate commerce such as tourism and fishing. Federal authority to regulate water mainly comes from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution.

Trump’s Dirty Water Rule removes protections from “isolated” lakes like Crater Lake that aren’t connected to waters that are traditionally navigable.

In 1972, Congress passed the Clean Water Act over President Richard Nixon’s veto. Rivers were so polluted then that the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland repeatedly caught fire. That act removed the requirement that waters must be able to have boats on them involved in interstate commerce to be federally protected.

The Clean Water Act doubled the number of waters that are safe for fishing and swimming and kept 10s of billions of pounds of sewage, chemicals and trash out of our waterways.

But the EPA struggled to enforce the Clean Water Act because of questions about what was included in “waters of the United States.” The EPA didn’t fine an oil company that discharged thousands of gallons of crude oil into a creek in Titus County, Texas, or a farming operation that dumped liquid manure in streams that fed a Georgia lake.

President Barack Obama’s Clean Water Rule, which was replaced by Trump, was supposed to fix this regulatory morass. Scientists put together a report based on a review of more than 1,200 peer-reviewed publications to back it up.

Featured image: Crater Lake National Park (NPS)


February 24, 2021