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Science and Innovations

Ephemeral Waterways Lose Federal Protection

Coconino National Forest

The Clean Water Act no longer applies to ephemeral streams which do not flow year round, due to a new rule from the Trump administration. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports on what that means for Arizona.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality estimates about 90 percent of the state’s waterways no longer have federal protection.

Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club says that’s left streams and wetlands vulnerable to pollution, dredging, and filling. She says, "These washes… are critically important for wildfire, they help to recharge the groundwater, and they feed the other waters in our state. Without Clean Water Act protection there’s really nothing protecting them."

But farmers, developers, and several state agencies support the new rule. Spencer Kamps of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, says, "The one-size fits all approach treated an ephemeral or dry wash… the same as the Oregon River. We don’t think that’s accurate nor needed, since ephemeral streams don’t have aquatic species in them."

ADEQ also supports the rule change but acknowledges the “gap in protection.” The agency is collecting input for a “Waters of Arizona” program. The process is expected to take several years and will require legislative approval. 

ADEQ is holding stakeholder meetings in Phoenix, Tucson, and Flagstaff this month. More information on their website:

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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