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Clean Water Act

Courtesy of Rebecca Fedewa / Flint River Watershed Coalition

When it comes to the Flint water crisis, there has been plenty of blame to go around.

In addition to the human errors and incompetence from the likes of the Snyder administration, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the EPA, and a series of unelected emergency managers, many have pointed fingers at another culprit: the Flint River itself.

Deb Nystrom / Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

Update Friday, September 23:

Recreation on the Huron River has been resumed and, so far, water tests show no threat to human health, according to an updated press release by the city of Ann Arbor.

It is believed that the leak was caused after a motorist drove through barriers near the entrance to Gallup Park. The investigation of that incident is ongoing.

Raw sewage flowed out of the pipe from Saturday, September 17 to Monday, September 19.

More from the city’s press release:

MDEQ

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has released its first status report on the wetlands in our state. 

You can think of wetlands as nature’s kidneys — they filter water.

Wetlands also help control floodwater and all kinds of creatures live in them.

Tracy Samilton / Michigan Radio

Michigan is saying goodbye to nine of its smaller and older coal-burning power plants.

DTE Energy is closing two facilities. Consumers Energy will shutter seven more, which are nicknamed the "Classic Seven." I recently toured one of these aging workhorses of electricity, B.C. Cobb in Muskegon.

User: ellenm1 / Flickr

Wetlands have all kinds of benefits for people and wildlife. But wetlands have also gotten in the way of farming and building. So, we’ve drained them over the years. 

The federal government has been trying to clarify what kinds of wetlands and small streams fall under the Clean Water Act.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new rule that they say would clear up confusion. 

Annie Snider is a reporter who covers water issues for Greenwire in Washington, D.C. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972 and Snider says the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers took a broad approach to what fell under it.

"But in 2001, and then again in 2006, there were [Supreme] Court challenges that threw that into question. And after those, the questions of which waters, which streams, which creeks, which wetlands fall under federal power under the Clean Water Act was thrown into question," says Snider.

The 2006 ruling involved two cases out of Michigan. While one contested the rejection of a permit, in the other, the U.S. sued a Midland real estate developer for filling in a wetland property. The developer said the wetland was not a "navigable waterway" and therefore not covered by the CWA. However, until that point, the EPA interpreted "navigable waters" as being "waters of the U.S." and any waters or wetlands connected to one of these waterways. In its ruling, the Supreme Court rejected the Army Corps of Engineers and EPA's limitless authority over water.

After that decision, Snider says that regulators had to make case-by-case decisions about which streams and creeks are important to the downstream waters — the big rivers and lakes that do fall under the Clean Water Act.