WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a legislative hearing, “The Nonpoint Source Management Program under the Clean Water Act: Perspectives from States.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for giving us the opportunity to examine both EPA’s and the states’ management of nonpoint source pollution, as well as the role that EPA’s 319 program plays in addressing this major threat to water quality. We appreciate our witnesses’ willingness to join us today, and we thank you both for spending a portion of your holidays preparing for this hearing. Given the importance of the issues involved, we are particularly grateful for your input today.
“As I suspect we all know, our states are beset by continuing water quality challenges—dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay, hazardous algae blooms off the coasts of Florida and our Great Lakes, and continuing nonattainment of water quality standards in rivers, lakes and estuaries in every state across our union.
“These events are often devastating—not only to ecosystems and human health, but also to local economies. For example, a 2009 study published in the Journal Environmental Science and Technology calculated the combined cost of freshwater nutrient overloads in the U.S. at $2.2 billion annually, with losses in recreational water use, waterfront real estate values, and drinking water.
“In response to a 2011 toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie, Toledo’s primary drinking water source, the city issued a three-day drinking water ban that affected over a half million residents. The city has since invested more than $1 billion on water treatment upgrades and pollution remediation projects. Florida spent $17.3 million in emergency funding in 2018 in response to harmful algae blooms. And, in July 2019, massive harmful algae blooms off the Gulf of Mexico coast forced Mississippi to close all of its beaches.
“We know these challenges well in my home state of Delaware. In our southernmost county, Sussex County—which is home to more chickens than any other county in the nation, with robust production of corn, soybeans, and vegetables—our constituents must contend with unhealthy levels of nitrate in their well water. That nitrate is a legacy of years of intensive agriculture and, until the last couple of decades, a lack of understanding and appreciation for the adverse effects this nutrient could have on the health of our babies and the quality of our invaluable coastal waters.
“And, along and around our Inland Bays, too many of those same Delawareans are also living with highly polluted estuaries that bloom with algae in warmer months, resulting in dead zones, occasional toxic algae blooms, and consequent fish kills and stench.
“Though several federal programs exist to mitigate these sources of nonpoint source pollution, section 319 of the Clean Water Act is our primary defense against this pollution. Given the very real ecological, economic and public health impacts associated with nonpoint source pollution, we either must do a better job with the tools we have, or find more effective and expeditious means to reduce the nutrients, sediment and other pollutants that flow off our lands and into our waters.
“I’m particularly interested to learn how well the Clean Water Act’s section 319 program and other provisions of law actually arm the states in their efforts to meet their water quality goals—especially in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
“As an upstream state in that watershed, Delaware is acutely aware of Maryland’s and Virginia’s expectations that we will do our part to reduce pollution loadings and assist with the restoration of the iconic treasure that is the Chesapeake Bay. At one point, Delaware was not doing enough. We now are. It is time for other upstream states, like the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to step up and clean up the water they send down the Susquehanna River to the Chesapeake. This is essential as our downstream neighbors have little recourse if upstream states fail to act on and meet those “good neighbor” expectations.
“In that regard, Mr. Chairman, our states of Delaware and Wyoming share a similar circumstance. We lie at the headwaters of rivers and streams that are critical to the health of ecosystems and communities downstream. Given that nonpoint source pollution is the number one cause of nonattainment across the country, I’m also very interested to learn whether section 319 is keeping our waters clean and serving the needs of downstream communities and neighboring states.
“Let me close with this. While the 319 program has certainly resulted in demonstrable successes, we continue to struggle with many of the same nonpoint source pollution problems that we did decades ago. More troublingly, our changing climate has made the problems worse. According to a recent CRS report, scientific research indicates that in recent years, the frequency and geographic distribution of harmful algae blooms have been increasing nationally and globally. Climate change is exacerbating these problems as heavier and more frequent rainfall increases runoff into our waters.
“Clearly, we have plenty of work ahead of us. We must make sure our nonpoint source pollution programs are able to respond to our new climate reality. I hope this hearing will give us insight into how to do so.”