Author: Kathryn

The EQIP isn’t the only threat to our rivers and streams

The EQIP isn’t the only threat to our rivers and streams

Op-Ed: An epic victory in the battle for free-flowing rivers

A growing consensus is emerging that our nation’s efforts to protect and restore the nation’s critical rivers and streams were a failure, in large part because our lawmakers passed laws that prevented the government from taking action.

For some 40 years, the federal government has been the nation’s expert on managing water, whether that effort is focused on regulation, management or restoration. It was the Department of the Interior that began developing the National Water Plan in the 1980s, a strategy to improve water quality by cleaning up rivers, lakes, wetlands and streams.

The Department of Agriculture issued a similar strategy: the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The EQIP gave farmers subsidies to clear and replant rivers and streams, and by the mid-1990s, the program had become the most powerful of its kind in the nation. From 2001 to 2006, for example, EQIP-funded watershed cleanups saved millions of gallons of water.

But by that point, Congress had begun using EQIP to force federal agencies to go to court to avoid spending money on water projects. At its worst, the EQIP was being used for “bad actors,” like tobacco companies, and the agency began to shift priorities. From the late 1990s to 2008, water programs were slashed in half and then some. Many agencies now operate with one or two water programs.

In fact, the EQIP is now the least significant program managed by the Department of Interior, which is overseeing water policy for the first time in its history. That’s a sad change. However, it isn’t a failure. Nor is it the only threat to our rivers.

The most significant threats are not so well recognized. Over the last 40-plus years, the federal government has spent millions of dollars to address the problem of drinking water contaminants, including billions of dollars on a program to find the source of a mysterious form of cancer. The costs are still being incurred and more than a million dollars have been spent on studies looking for the cancer-causing agent in Flint, Mich., a city where the water supply was poisoned by water filters designed to protect against lead. And the cost of treating the water in Flint continues to grow.

When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it made a provision of the law permanent, establishing

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