Environment group says obvious about the importance of EPA Clean Water Rules

Fans of effluvium and industrial waste-riddled rivers are probably willing to spend billions telling you the opposite, but as it turns out, millions of Floridians enjoy rivers, streams and other waterways fed by tributaries that aren't teeming with pollutants.

At a press conference held Thursday at St. Pete's Vinoy Park, the group Environment Florida and a couple of water enthusiasts highlighted a report the green nonprofit recently released.

It quantified the amount of people, Floridians as well as visitors, who use Florida's waterways each year, tying our nearly universal enjoyment of bodies of water to environmental protections at the federal level.

“Florida ranks first in the country for registered boats and is in the top five states for fishing licenses and summer camps with water activities,” said Environment Florida spokeswoman Jennifer Rubiello.

She added that over 37 million people visit Florida parks that have waterways each year.

The study did the same for 28 other states, but Florida came out on top — or close to it when it comes to use of waterways.

“Our message today is crystal clear," Rubiello said. "Our rivers and lakes are a big part of what makes Florida such a special place to enjoy summer fun all year 'round. There's nothing quite like boating in Tampa Bay or kayaking down the Hillsborough River while relaxing on a hot day.”

For the past decade, until August 28th of this year, federal Clean Water Act regulations had been rolled back, causing Florida's waterways to go unprotected from pollution resulting from developers and other industries — roughly a third of the state's waterways in all.

Those who support less environmental regulation typically say such rules tend to be burdensome and economically stifling, and fought in court for more lax regulations.

In the past year, President Obama sought to reverse that via an executive order, and now protections are what they were when the Clean Water Act was adopted in 1972, affecting, Rubiello said, 15,000 miles of Florida waterways and two million miles of them across the country. Over 800,000 members of the public voiced their support of the expanded protections.

Among those backing the protections locally is Captain Eric Weather, who owns the boat charter company WeatherEco.

“Clean water in this area is just so important. I take people out from all over. I take them out to coastal waters to do things like scuba diving and snorkeling to give them an experience that makes them realize what an important environment the water is.”

But even though the rules are now the law of the land, there is concern that there could be future attempts to reverse them by Congress if an anti-environment president gets elected. Just this past September, Sen. Marco Rubio co-sponsored legislation that would block the rules.

“Developers, oil companies and polluters, however, have waged a bitter campaign against the Clean Water Rules and their allies in Congress are now pushing to overturn it,” Rubiello said.

Such a move would be asinine, she said, calling for Tampa Bay area residents specifically to support keeping the protections in place.

“The 15,000 miles of streams that gained protection here in Florida include many of the streams that flow into the Hillsborough River and eventually into Tampa Bay and provide this area with much of our drinking water supply. So when we're talking about why these protections are so important, they're important for here, for folks all across St. Pete and all across Tampa Bay.”

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