The Clean Water Act at 50 and What It Means for Birds

This week we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Actc birthday – and half a century to protect America’s waters. It’s hard to overstate how critical this legislation is and is in reducing the amount of pollution that flows into our rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands. At Audubon, we know that birds and communities need access to clean water, which is why this bipartisan bill is so important—ensuring clean and abundant water in rivers, lakes, streams, marshes, and wetlands, the landscapes that matter most to birds here. do not survive. And that means protecting the Clean Water Act now and into the future.

Passing the Clean Water Act is easy, so let’s look at what it actually does for people and birds.

In addition to giving federal agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency the authority to regulate the amount of pollution that flows directly into streams and waterways, the law protects small streams, wetlands, and intertidal streams that are hotspots for bird life and important for maintaining water quality in downstream rivers. and larger bodies of water. Wetlands cover approximately 110 million acres in the continental United States and are invaluable to hundreds of bird species, including the Bald Eagle, Wood Stork, Northern Pintail, American Bittern, Semipalmated Plover, Prothonotary Warbler, and many other birds, fish, and other birds. is a place of residence. wild nature. These waterways also filter pollution and provide drinking water to more than 117 million Americans, or about 33 percent of the country.

Birds need clean water and thriving ecosystems in and around healthy bodies of water to survive. They depend not only on water itself, but on all rivers, streams, shorelines, water in depressions in the landscape, soil, and fish, insects, and plants throughout the watershed. To provide this important resource for birds, surface water must have adequate flow and be at an appropriate depth for feeding or resting behaviors of various bird species. Wetlands and streams should be allowed to flood or be flooded at appropriate intervals regularly, intermittently, or seasonally to restore water levels, increase beneficial soil nutrients, and support critical vegetation. Clean, accessible water is vital to birds for fish, insect and plant food sources, healthy breeding habitat, adequate protection from predators, and necessary resting places during migration, nesting and rearing.

Wetlands in particular are critical to bird health and population stability. About one-third of North American bird species, including the Great Blue Heron and Brown Pelican, use wetlands for food, shelter, or breeding. About 138 birds and subspecies are designated as “wetland-dependent” in the United States. These birds include cranes, herons, cormorants, kingfishers, ospreys, owls, perching birds, pelicans, shorebirds, hawks, and waterfowl. This list includes 27 species of ducks, from Wood Ducks to Blue-winged Terns, 20 species of gulls and terns, 17 species of plovers, seven species of grasshoppers, egrets, herons, and many other species that depend on wetlands. in every region of the country.

According to the latest State of Birds Report, decades of investment in wetlands are creating a positive trend for waterfowl, geese and waders. Much of this success is due to effective policy measures that complement the Clean Water Act, such as the North American Wetlands Protection Act and US Farm Bill conservation programs. Despite all of the law’s amazing benefits and how it has cleaned up our waterways over time, it has faced challenges over the years and continues to be threatened by courts and politicians who take an extremely narrow view of the Clean Water Act. Over the past few years, the legal definition of what flows can be regulated has left many waterways unprotected. This means that wetlands across the country are at risk of uncontrolled development, threatening the communities and birds that depend on these resources for clean water.

Fortunately, there are strong coalitions that continue to defend the Clean Water Act and the protections it provides for birds and people. Audubon is proud to join our conservation, recreation, business and other partners in supporting the law and strengthening it through sound science, policy and advocacy.

Birds are telling us that we need to do more for their survival and ours. For the next 50 years, Audubon will continue to defend federal laws that protect our water, air, land, and wildlife.

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