As Susquehanna’s Source, Pure Water Matters Here Most

As Susquehanna’s Source, Pure Water Matters Here Most

By SANDRA VITTI & LARRY BENNETT

Edition of Thursday-Friday Nov. 13-14

The Susquehanna River is the longest river in the East, providing drinking water to millions of people and a place for residents across multiple states to boat, swim and fish. What’s more, Cherry Valley Creek, Moss Pond and other local waterways help support dozens upon dozens of small businesses that help New Yorkers use and explore their waterways.

Brewery Ommegang, for example, has worked since 1997 to create quality Belgian-style beer right here in New York. We hold festivals every summer where thousands of people come to sample beer, taste delicious food, enjoy live music and more. Serving 43 states, and water being perhaps the most important ingredient in our product, Brewery

Ommegang’s ongoing success depends upon protecting the health of our watershed, the health of the Susquehanna River, the streams that feed into it, and the other rivers and lakes in the region.

We should be doing everything we can to protect our waterways. While the Susquehanna River itself is protected under the Clean Water Act, far too many of the tributaries that flow into the river, along with more than 55 percent of the rivers and streams that crisscross our state, don’t have guaranteed protections under the law.

That means developers could pave over our wetlands; oil companies, power plants, or meat processing plants could dump into our streams; and federal law couldn’t stop them, thanks to a loophole created by a pair of polluter-driven lawsuits nearly a decade ago.

The loophole leaves vulnerable the waterways that feed into the Susquehanna River, like Cherry Valley Creek, and other rivers and lakes that provide drinking water; and that leaves businesses like Brewery Ommegang more vulnerable, too. For instance, the Susquehanna was once named “America’s most endangered river” because of the excessive pollution that flowed into it from nearby agricultural runoff and inadequately treated sewage.

Fortunately, in March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to close this loophole and restore protections to more than 28,000 miles of rivers and streams across New York, and nearly 2 million across the country.

A broad coalition of clean water advocates, farmers, mayors, small businesses, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers have heralded the EPA move. However, agribusinesses, oil and gas companies, and other polluters affected by the rule have waged a bitter campaign against it, and earlier this month, the U.S. House approved a bill, H.R. 5078, to block the new rule.

Disappointingly, among those voting in favor of the measure and against clean water safeguards were several New York State Representatives, including Rep. Chris Gibson, whose district encompasses Cooperstown, where Brewery Ommegang resides, as well as a large portion of the Susquehanna River.

There’s still time, and so there’s still opportunity to get these restored protections across the finish line. EPA is taking public comments on their proposal now, but that comment period will close in less than two weeks. In the face of all the opposition from the big polluters, it’s critical that all New Yorkers who value clean water make their voices heard. And it’s critical that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stand up for these rules if they come before her in the Senate.

New Yorkers depend on clean water to enjoy and to drink. Businesses like Brewery Ommegang depend on clean water to make a living. Let’s do everything we can to foster a good economy and a high quality of life for generations to come.