This webpage is intended for those new to clean-water advocacy who are concerned about the impact of pollution upon streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes, tidal waters, and other aquatic resources. While the focus is on bringing existing sources into full compliance with clean water laws, guidance is also offered for fending off future threats.
Is There Enforcement
Problem in Your Area
The answer to this question is probably yes. Why? Well, consider the following:
"In September , a New York Times investigation found that companies and other workplaces had violated the Clean Water Act more than 500,000 times in the last five years, but fewer than 3 percent of polluters had ever been fined or otherwise punished."
CEDS has also gathered substantial anecdotal evidence showing it's a mistake to assume compliance is high anywhere in the nation. Later in this webpage we'll offer advice for identifying pollution problems in the watershed of your favorite waterway, then determining if clean water laws have been violated.
Agencies Solve Only 1 in 4 Citizen Complaints
There appears to be little hard data on citizen success in getting pollution laws enforced. CEDS did an informal survey of clean water groups active in five Chesapeake Bay watershed states. This survey revealed that only one in four pollution problems reported to enforcement agencies was resolved. Because of our specialization in this area of advocacy, CEDS has developed approaches which are resolving 90% of the enforcement problems citizens bring to us. These approaches are introduced later in this webpage. For further detail on our survey click: CEDS Survey.
Following are some indicators of possible pollution problems which should be promptly reported:
muddy or other discolored water when its been a while since the last rain;
more then a few dying or recently dead fish;
unusual odors, particularly those of oil or other chemicals; or
abrupt, dramatic changes in the appearance of waters you know well.
If time and conditions permit try to trace the problem to a source. For example, if a river is muddy during dry weather drive to the next crossing upstream to see if the river is still muddy. If not then the source is somewhere between where you first noticed the muddy water and your present location.
But if you don't have time for further investigation and still suspect pollution then quickly report what you found.
Making A Report: To report a problem you'll need to provide the date, time, location, and the conditions which made you suspect pollution. Ask when the problem will be investigated and who you should contact to learn the results. While many pollution agencies accept anonymous reports, its much better to provide your name and contact information. But if this is a problem then ask a local watershed organization or CEDS to report the problem for you.
Who To Call: Generally its best to begin the reporting process by contacting your State environmental agency. You can also try the US EPA Report Spills and Environmental Violations webpage. If you have trouble then ask a local watershed organization or CEDS to for advice.
What To Expect: Of course you should be treated in a courteous, respectful manner both when you file the report and when you follow-up. If a genuine problem was found then the agency should explain what action will be taken. You should continue to follow-up to ensure the problem is fully resolved. If the agency feels a genuine pollution problem does not exist, then they should explain why.
If You Are Dissatisfied: If the agency fails to resolve your concerns and you are not satisfied with their reason why, then consider the CEDS Equitable Solutions approach before hiring a lawyer. When compared to litigation, Equitable Solutions triples the likelihood of resolving your concerns at a fraction of the cost. However, if you feel legal action is warranted then consider a Clean Water Act 60-day letter.
Apple Greene provides one of the best ways to illustrate the merits of Equitable Solutions vs. legal action. A shopping center was proposed for construction next to the 160 homes in Apple Greene. A very promising technology know as drip-irrigation was proposed to dispose of wastewater from the shopping center. CEDS research showed that this technology had an extremely high rate of failure. But through aggressive negotiations and political action we succeeded in hammering out a series of safeguards which fully protect Apple Greene residents while resolving the technology defects. For further detail visit the No Sewage Near Homes webpage.
We also suggest seeking advice from a local watershed organization or CEDS. Ask your elected representatives to look into the matter. Of course this will be a local, state or federal representative depending upon which level of government is responsible for enforcing the applicable laws. For additional suggestions see the section of this webpage headed: Improving Compliance Throughout A Watershed or Region.
CEDS Citizens Hotline: If this advice still doesn't lead to problem resolution, then call the CEDS Citizens Hotline at 1-800-773-4571 or e-mail us at Help@ceds.org. Our advice is always available free of charge to clean water advocates.
Persistence Pays: Far too many understaffed and overworked enforcement agencies fail to act on citizen complaints. They know that the vast majority of citizens will not follow-up on the complaint. Because of this CEDS has found it occasionally necessary to employ tactics designed to increase the pressure on the enforcement agency. In more then 30 years CEDS has never encountered a pollution problem that couldn't be solved. The reason is that all opposition has a melting point and there's always another way to turn up the heat. So, again, please give us a call if your initial efforts don't produce results.
How do you determine what pollution sources affect the quality of your favorite creek, lake, estuary, or other waterway? Well, you don't need a Ph.D. or expensive equipment to do this. In fact, the best first steps are all low-tech, requiring common sense and keen eyes (and nose). To learn the basics of water quality assessment and pin-pointing pollution sources visit the USEPA Monitoring website.
Online Search: There's a tremendous amount of information available online regarding many waterways and pollution sources. In fact, simply doing a keyword search on the name of a waterway usually returns at least a few hits. For some waters, like the Potomac or Mississippi River, the returns are overwhelming but can be refined with additional keywords like water quality, monitoring, pollution, etc. Following are some (of many) good online sources:
Surf Your Watershed: Type in the zip code(s) covering your watershed to get a wealth of information;
ECHO: To learn of permitted pollution sources enter the zip code(s) covering your watershed into the USEPA Enforcement & Compliance History Online website then use this same site to learn if each source is in compliance;
State Environmental Agencies: Many state environmental agency websites have a page devoted to monitoring data, permitted discharges, and other information. Try typing the waterway name into the general search block as well; and
USGS: The US Geological Survey Real-Time Water Data site is a bit more difficult to use but provides data not available elsewhere, such as stream flows.
Watershed, Stream & Shoreline Surveys: The quality of online data varies considerably and is seldom current much less complete. This is why there's no substitute for walking streams, cruising shorelines, and driving the roads traversing a watershed to compile a complete listing of pollution sources. Guidance for conducting these surveys can be found under the heading of Volunteer Methods Manuals at the USEPA volunteer monitoring website.
CEDS Survey Of Your Watershed: If you wish CEDS can conduct an inventory of pollution sources for you. This could be as simple as searching online for sources located in your watershed or conducting an onsite survey. For further detail contact CEDS president Richard Klein at 1-800-773-4571 or Rklein@ceds.org. Following are examples of these two extremes:
Full enforcement of clean water laws, like all government functions, is most likely to occur when backed by aggressive public support. This support must take two forms:
Clean water advocates must put a credible system in place to independently assess compliance on a regular basis; and
Advocates must have a means of publicizing the results of each assessment among a politically significant population.
Example of Improved Compliance: Perhaps an example would help. Maryland Save Our Streams used to conduct countywide inventories of construction site sediment pollution. Twenty or so volunteers would participate in a two-hour training course. The volunteers would then form into two-person teams and evaluate pollution control quality on 50 to a hundred construction sites. These low-tech, inexpensive surveys proved extremely effective in providing enforcement agencies with the resources and political support critical to keeping construction companies in compliance. In one county an 18-month campaign doubled the enforcement budget and produced a four-fold increase in compliance!
It's amazing how little effort and expense is required to keep pollution sources in compliance with clean water laws. Making greater use of these techniques is probably THE single most effective option for achieving the much higher level of compliance essential to restoring the appallingly large number of waterways degraded due to violations of existing clean water laws.
Even more amazing is how rarely clean water advocates use these accountability techniques. In fact, it is unlikely accountability surveys are being conducted in your watershed. But you can change that. In fact, CEDS would be delighted to assist you in getting a survey off the ground.
Politically Significant Constituency: Once you've documented compliance deficiencies, the next step is to provide decision-makers with the political support needed to correct the problem. Many newcomers make the mistake of focusing all their energy on watershed groups and other organizations in hopes they will provide the necessary political clout. This seldom works since these groups are frequently maxed out with their own very important agenda. Instead, we urge you to reach out to those who are directly impacted by poor compliance and are politically active, such as frequent voters who live on or near affected waterways.
There are many other Poli-fluentials who are much more likely to support your efforts and sway decision-makers when compared to the public at large. CEDS has developed a number of highly-effective techniques for winning the support of these influential people. By pursuing this path instead of focusing on established groups you can expand the clean water constituency in your area, which will make it easier for you and watershed groups to win future victories. This strategy of constantly expanding local clean-water constituencies is something few groups do well and we believe a primary cause for poor compliance.
CEDS Assistance: While the techniques are simple, figuring out a strategy for carrying them out in a way that influences decision-makers can be challenging. In fact, it is impossible to cover all the variables and what-if's in a webpage like this. This is why CEDS offers workshops on this and the other topics covered in this webpage. Further detail is provided in the next section: Workshops on Improving Compliance.
CEDS can conduct a workshop in your area on any of the topics presented in this webpage as well as those listed along the right-hand margin. A typical agenda can be viewed by clicking the following: Sample Workshop Agenda.
The workshop can range from a one-hour introduction to one lasting two or more days. While costs vary depending upon workshop duration, location, and other factors our fee is generally about $25 to $50 per participant. To discuss the possibility of scheduling a workshop for your area contact CEDS president Richard Klein at 1-800-773-4571 or Rklein@ceds.org.
To fully protect a lake, wetland, tidal creek, river, or other waterway there must be a limit on the intensity of future watershed development. Additionally, mechanisms must be in place to ensure highly-effective pollution prevention measures will be fully utilized and maintained in good condition. Frankly, few waterways benefit from both approaches. And it is rare that we see a watershed restoration or management plan which effectively employs either approach, much less both. Finally, activities like stream restoration are a poor substitute for good watershed growth management.
Present scientific research indicates that to protect water quality and human uses, no more than 5% to 10% of a watershed should be covered with buildings, parking lots, streets, or other impervious surfaces. That's equivalent to about one house for every two- to six-acres of watershed area. While some argue that Low-Impact Development, Environmentally Sensitive Design, or other Best Management Practices (BMPs) allow imperviousness to exceed 5% - 10% without harming aquatic resources, the reality is that flawed design, poor installation, and inadequate maintenance cause many of these approaches to perform poorly or fail completely.
CEDS has developed an approach which provides lake associations, watershed organizations, waterkeepers, and other clean water advocates with a way to gain the political clout needed win implementation of science-based watershed development caps, reasonable environmental protection laws, and to greatly increase the likelihood that the full benefits of highly-effective BMPs are achieved. Further detail on this approach is provided in: Taking Control of Growth in Your Watershed. For advice regarding a specific development project see: Winning Watershed Land Use Battles.
To learn more about how we can help you protect your favorite lake, river, or creek, through watershed growth management contact us at 1-800-773-4571 or Help@ceds.org.
The federal Clean Water Act contains a provision allowing citizens to file suit when a permitted facility fails to comply with limits on pollution releases. To initiate the process citizens send formal notice to the permittee with copies to the State enforcement agency and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The agencies then have 60 days to initiate enforcement action. If the agencies fail to act then the suit proceeds to court.
At first 60-day letters look like a great way to bring a recalcitrant polluter into compliance. Unfortunately, the state agency usually takes some minimal action during the 60-day period which brings the suit to a halt. However, there have been some notable exceptions, some of which have established very important precedents.
The point is that you should thoroughly consider the pros and cons of a Clean Water Act suit. Frankly, there are almost always better options available, such as the CEDS Equitable Solutions and Smart Legal Strategy approach. To discuss the merits of a 60-day letter for your case contact CEDS at 1-800-773-4571 or Help@ceds.org.
Following are some of the many good reasons why one may not wish to report a pollution problem or engage in the ongoing activities required to get a problem solved:
lack of time needed for the initial report and follow-up;
uncertainty regarding the technical aspects of what constitutes an effective solution;
concern about souring relations with government agencies, funders, or others one must work with in the future; or
a desire not to confront a polluter with a reputation for becoming nasty.
None of these or many other possible reasons is a concern for CEDS. So if you wish, we would be delighted to turn our meter on and file the initial complaint for you then do the follow-up work required to achieve full resolution. If you wish your involvement and that of your organization would be kept confidential.
Reporting and solving a pollution problem usually costs less then $500. For further detail contact CEDS at 1-800-773-4571 or Help@ceds.org. Also, we'd be delighted to answer any questions you have about reporting or resolving problems on your own. We never charge citizen advocates for answering questions such as these.
Groups active throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed were asked to participate in the survey. Responses have been received from clean water advocates in: Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C. About three-fourths of the respondents listed an organizational affiliation.
Greatest Threats To Waterways
The following four threats topped the list in response to the question Which of the following poses the greatest threat to the waterway(s) of concern to you?
A table follows the graph listing other threats offered by survey participants.
Only One in Four Threats
Nearly a hundred specific threats were given in response to the question: How many of these threats have you attempted to resolve, say, over the past two- to five-years?
Respondents indicated that only a fourth of the threats were resolved in response to the follow-up question: And of these threats how many were resolved to your satisfaction? Techniques used by CEDS are achieving a resolution rate averaging 90%. CEDS offers workshops describing how these techniques can be applied to many different types of threats.
To Resolving Water Quality Threats
The following four issues topped the list in response to the question: Which of the following has impeded your efforts to resolve water quality threats?
Enforcement agency unresponsive
Elected officials unresponsive
Lack of political clout; and
A graph and table listing other impediments can be viewed by clicking the following link:
Closing comments offered by 30 of the respondents can be viewed by clicking the following link:
Would You Like To Take The
We would like to learn about the enforcement experiences of clean water advocates through the nation. We'd deeply appreciate it if you would consider taking the survey. Just click the following text: CEDS Enforcement Survey.