Advocates Press for Changes to CA Lead Pipe Replacement Program / Public News Service

October was Children’s Environmental Health Month and this week is National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week. As a result, child health groups in California are calling for changes to the state’s 10-year plan to replace lead plumbing.

California could get as much as $1.25 billion from infrastructure bill to replace old lead water pipes.

Kelly Hardy, senior managing director of health and research for the Children Now group, said a coalition of health and environmental groups wrote a letter urging the California State Water Resources Control Board to “pull the leadership out.”

“We urge that they use all available means to replace all pipes and add filters to keep the lead in the water from increasing when the pipes are replaced,” she said, “and also provide for systematic sampling of the water.”

The groups want to see changes to the agency’s draft plan, saying it doesn’t require water agencies to replace pipes owned by a homeowner, only the utility. According to the draft plan, California needs just $341 million to solve the lead problem in drinking water, but the groups want the state to provide all of the funding.

The state water authority did not respond to a request for comment in a timely manner.

Dozens of waterworks are currently replacing pipes. Hardy said she wants families to be notified when work is being done on upstream pipes because she said just disrupting galvanized pipes to replace them can cause lead levels in tap water to rise.

“We know there is no safe amount of lead for children,” she said, “and it can cause a whole range of problems: learning disabilities, hearing impairment, hyperactivity, delayed puberty, and other health and behavioral effects.”

Maps from the California Department of Health show that the Humboldt, Merced, Sacramento and Santa Cruz areas have high blood lead levels in children compared to other areas in the state. People can contact their local water authority for data on lead levels in water, as well as lead reduction efforts.

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The 1969 Cuyahoga River fire spurred passage of the Clean Water Act in Congress, and this week the landmark law marks the 50th anniversary of the transformation of waterways across the country.

A new report from the National Wildlife Federation says the number of sites that meet water quality standards has nearly doubled in the past 50 years, thanks to Clean Water Act provisions that help limit pollution, track polluters, and restore efforts finance.

Chanté Coleman, senior vice president for equity and justice at the National Wildlife Federation, said the Cuyahoga River is a “poster child” of the law’s importance.

“This isn’t the first time this river has caught fire due to industrial and sewage waste,” she said, “and today you can actually eat fish from the river because of the Clean Water Act. It’s a really incredible story. The benefits on the Cuyahoga River could be seen just 20 years later.”

Despite the success of the law, Coleman said parts of it are currently being challenged in a case in the US Supreme Court. It could remove the protection of some streams and wetlands, which would then make it easier and cheaper to pollute or even eliminate those waterways.

According to the report, the Clean Water Act regulates nearly 200,000 point polluters, such as sewage treatment plants, oil refineries and indoor pig farms. Coleman noted that it keeps 700 billion pounds of pollutants out of the nation’s water every year.

“The levels of metals like lead in our rivers have dropped dramatically, and ultimately the cost of purifying our drinking water is lower because our entire system is healthier,” she said. “Clean drinking water benefits all communities, but especially the most vulnerable communities facing increasingly polluted water due to climate change.”

However, Coleman noted that the benefits of the Clean Water Act are still not evenly distributed, particularly for urban and low-income communities and communities of color.

“There are far too many Americans from this demographic who remain vulnerable to water pollution,” she said. “So the law really needs some fine-tuning so that access to clean water isn’t based on your race, zip code or income.”

Those improvements, she said, could include investments in water infrastructure in vulnerable communities.

The report also called for Congress to do more to address agricultural runoff, which is the main reason bodies of water in the United States do not meet water quality standards.

Disclosure: The National Wildlife Federation makes contributions to our fund for reporting on climate change/air quality, endangered species and wildlife, energy policy and water. If you would like to support public interest messages, click here.

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50 years ago this week, Congress passed the Clean Water Act, allowing policymakers across the 50 states to limit pollution, prosecute polluters and fund efforts to restore clean water. Now it is in danger.

Supporters of the Clean Water Act fear the health of about half of the country’s streams and wetlands is at risk as the Supreme Court weighs a case that could curtail longstanding protections.

Amanda Fuller, Texas regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, said the 1972 law was passed with bipartisan support, likely in direct response to the post-war proliferation of untreated sewage and industrial discharges into waterways across the country.

“If people remember, images of rivers on fire were quite alarming,” she said, “and I think it was just a moment of reckoning for the nation.”

The Supreme Court’s Sackett v. EPA case would weaken the agency’s ability to protect water quality. During the first hearing earlier this month, several conservative judges expressed concern about the broad reach of the law.

Fuller said that ephemeral streams, which only flow when it rains, make up about 80% of all streams in the west.

“And that leaves 2,183 streams in Texas essentially at risk of losing protection under the Clean Water Act if the Supreme Court rules in the Sacketts’ favor,” she said.

Fuller cited a Morning Consult poll showing that 75% of adults want more protected waterways, and four in five want the Environmental Protection Agency — rather than Congress, states or local governments — to continue to lead on protection take over from clean water.

Disclosure: The National Wildlife Federation makes contributions to our fund for reporting on climate change/air quality, endangered species and wildlife, energy policy and water. If you would like to support public interest messages, click here.

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The Clean Water Act turns 50 this week, but parts of it are currently being challenged in a case before the US Supreme Court. The fall could remove protections from some streams and wetlands, which would then make it easier and cheaper to pollute or even eliminate those waterways.

Chanté Coleman, senior vice president for equity and justice at the National Wildlife Federation, said the law was partly motivated by the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill.

“There were no federal controls on industrial pollution or oil spills,” Coleman explained. “For example, many cities have discharged largely untreated sewage into the Pacific Ocean or its coastal bays. And the federal government itself dumped 50,000 barrels of radioactive waste into the Pacific.”

California has strict rules protecting water, but a new report from the National Wildlife Federation says the Sackett v. EPA case could allow factories, pig farms and sewage facilities to pollute water bodies in other states that don’t have strong water quality protections.

The report highlights the success of transforming Monterey Bay from an ecological disaster caused by pollution and overfishing into a healthy ecosystem and thriving tourist destination, and recognizes the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Coleman noted that few laws have ever had such a massive impact.

“The Clean Water Act keeps 700 billion pounds of pollutants out of our waters annually,” said Coleman. “And has slowed the decline in wetland loss and doubled the number of bodies of water that are safe for fishing and swimming.”

The report also called on Congress to do more to address agricultural runoff, which is the number one reason U.S. water bodies fail to meet water quality standards.

Disclosure: The National Wildlife Federation makes contributions to our fund for reporting on climate change/air quality, endangered species and wildlife, energy policy and water. If you would like to support public interest messages, click here.

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