Trump Plan to Gut Stream Protections Imperils Tap Water of 117 Million Americans
The Trump administration is threatening to remove safeguards that protect the drinking water of more than one-third of Americans.
Some 117 million people get at least some of their drinking water from small streams. For 72 million people in 1,033 counties, more than half of their drinking water comes from small streams. Ensuring that their water is safe means keeping the water in these streams clean. (See map below. Click here for a more detailed interactive map.)
More than 72 million Americans in 1,033 counties get more than half of their drinking water from small streams
Source: EWG, from Environmental Protection Agency, Geographic Information Systems Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral, and Headwater Streams in the U.S.
Right now, the Clean Water Act protects these streams from pollution. But this week President Trump issued an executive order directing Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to rescind or revise the Clean Water Rule, or replace it with a new rule.
This critically important rule determines which streams, rivers and lakes are protected from pollution by the Clean Water Act. The rule also extends protection for millions of acres of wetlands that filter drinking water.
Industry and agribusiness have been pushing for years to roll back the Clean Water Rule and protect only the biggest streams and rivers. Now they’ve found a friend in the Trump administration.
Small streams are where big rivers start, and the best science confirms that dirty streams means even dirtier rivers. Millions of Americans drink water directly connected to 234,000 miles of small, potentially unprotected streams.
In 21 different states, small streams provide drinking water for 1 million or more people. (See chart below.) More than 5 million people in each New York, Texas and Pennsylvania get drinking water from small streams, as do more than 3 million in each California, Georgia, Maryland, Ohio, North Carolina and Arizona.
Source: EWG, from Environmental Protection Agency, Geographic Information Systems Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral and Headwater Streams in the U.S.
President Trump’s executive order immediately threatens drinking water for millions of Americans, but it’s not the only threat. Dozens of lawsuits seeking to gut the Clean Water Rule have been filed by industry and agribusiness, and states catering to those interests. Congress could meddle with the Clean Water Act itself to deny protection to small streams and wetlands.
The Clean Water Rule is a common-sense safeguard supported by a majority of Americans. It is supported by many cities and towns that depend on unpolluted drinking water sources and natural infrastructure like wetlands to filter pollutants and absorb floodwaters. Small businesses that rely on clean water and healthy wildlife habitats, such as craft breweries and outdoor recreation companies, also strongly support the Clean Water Rule.
Undermining, weakening or rescinding this vital rule is a gift to corporate polluters and Big Ag, and a threat to public health and the environment.
About EWG’s analysis
EWG analyzed data from a 2009 EPA study that examined “regional patterns of dependence on intermittent, ephemeral and headwater streams to supply public drinking water systems in the United States, using the most recent, valid data available.”
The EPA mapped a Source Protection Area, or SPA, for every public drinking water system. The agency defined an SPA as “the area upstream from a drinking water intake that provides water to a public drinking water system during a 24-hour period.”
The EPA’s approach likely underestimates the contribution small steams make to drinking water supplies. Small streams feed the large rivers that millions of people rely on for drinking water, but are too far upstream from the drinking water intake to be included in the EPA’s analysis.
In the map below, the blue shaded area is a SPA. Water from streams in the SPA will reach the intake, indicated by a red dot, within 24 hours.
Source Protection Area used to model water systems’ dependence on small streams
Source: Environmental Protection Agency, Geographic Information Systems Analysis of the Surface Drinking Water Provided by Intermittent, Ephemeral and Headwater Streams in the U.S.
In all, the EPA assessed 413,104 miles of waterways within SPAs. The assessment found that 57 percent, or 234,459 stream miles, were intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.
EWG used the EPA’s data to identify the number of people living in counties that depend most on small streams. We defined these as counties where:
- 100 percent of residents depend on surface water for drinking water.
- More than half of the streams providing source water are intermittent, ephemeral or headwaters streams.
- The local utility serves at least 1,000 people.
 Streams classified by the U.S. Geological Survey as intermittent, ephemeral or headwater streams.