What do we mean by “clean water”?

Protecting our health, food, and communities

Jun 25, 2019
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You would think the one thing people everywhere would get behind and support would be clean water. We all need it. We all use it.  

Photo by ADF&G

Yet, huge inequities exist over who gets access to clean water and who doesn’t, as demonstrated by the drinking water crisis still impacting the people of Flint, Michigan. In a new book, “Flint Fights Back,” a professor who moved to Flint in 2015 argues that “Flint was not just poisoned, but poisoned by policy.” 

Water is life

Policies that emphasize the needs of extractive industries play a big role in pollution, too. Here in Alaska, many of the places Trustees fights to protect include waterways that support healthy fish, wildlife and communities.  

Why allow industry to pollute waters that provide us with food? Why put plants and animals at risk when our families and communities rely on them?

Specifically, why does the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation want to allow continued and increased releases of toxic oil and gas drilling waste into Cook Inlet?

beluga whales in Cook Inlet
Cook Inlet beluga whales. NOAA photo

Remember, the Cook Inlet area is home to the two-thirds of Alaskans, and its waters support fish and shellfish, beluga whales, and other animals that provide us with food and support jobs in sustainable sectors like fishing and tourism.

Yet, the oil and gas facilities in Cook Inlet are the only coastal facilities in the entire country allowed to dump millions of gallons of oil, drilling fluids, and heavy metal directly into nearshore waters.

That’s not business as usual, that’s business as special interest.   

Water is shared

The Clean Water Act is the primary federal law governing water pollution. Its stated goal is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of United States waters.

To meet this goal, Congress established several objectives, including attaining and maintaining water quality that protects fish, shellfish, and wildlife, and prohibiting the release of pollutants in toxic amounts.

Osprey oil platform in Cook Inlet
The Osprey oil and gas platform—one of the only facilities that does NOT currently discharge waste directly into Cook Inlet—sits near West Foreland across Cook Inlet from Nikiski. Photo courtesy of Ground Truth Trekking.

Since enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act has improved the quality U.S. waters. Yet, for decades now, oil and gas companies have dumped millions of gallons of waste into Cook Inlet, despite the existence of technology that could prevent toxic discharges.

Water is our responsibility

Earlier this year, DEC released a draft general permit covering most oil and gas facilities in Cook Inlet.

The agency’s proposed permit expands the type of permissible discharges allowed under the permit, and increases the facilities that fall within the permit’s scope. DEC also reduced buffer zones for critical habitat areas, opening the door for companies to dump toxics into those particularly sensitive areas.

The agency’s draft permit further authorizes mixing zones—with some areas over a half a mile in length—where industry is allowed to dilute their waste.  DEC should protect human health and clean water by making the provisions of its draft permit stronger, not weaker. 

Truth is, there’s a lot wrong with its draft permit, and we made that clear in comments we submitted in May on behalf of groups opposed to the permit.

All Alaskans should expect agencies to protect clean water in Cook Inlet and elsewhere in Alaska, not rubber stamp the loopholes industry wants.

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