Now is the time to raise our voices for clean water

For more than 40 years, I've enjoyed the beauty of Illinois' outdoors. From white bass fishing on the Vermilion River as a child to fly fishing for smallmouth bass on the Kankakee River and Chicago's incredible lakefront as a local business owner, adult sportsman and a proud Illinoisan, access to our state's public lands and waters is critical to both my well-being and the success of my businesses.

It is because of past clean water efforts that I have been able to build two successful fishing businesses in Chicago, employing 10 people. My economic livelihood and that of our employees depends on it.

On a wider scale, imagine the impact of Lake Michigan's recent rebirth, the positive effects on Chicago's thriving tourism trade, the countless jobs created, and the revenue that our city reaps, all a result of clean water.

So when I sat down with U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk and the Environmental Protection Agency a few weeks ago, I knew exactly what was at stake. Recently, the EPA and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a final rule to clarify which bodies of water the Clean Water Act protects.

Confusion over the Act's jurisdiction was created after two Supreme Court decisions hindered implementation by regulators. The lack of clarity has taken its toll: For the first time in over 40 years, the rate of annual wetland losses is on the rise, and 20 million acres of wetlands have already lost Clean Water Act protections.

The clean water rule restores protections for wetlands and headwater streams that provide vital habitat for fish and wildlife, the very same headwaters and wetlands that play such vital roles on the DuPage, Fox, Kankakee, Illinois, and countless other rivers.

These waters also reduce flooding and supply drinking water to one in three Americans, including 1.67 million Illinoisans.

Although the clean water rule announcement is a critical step, there are bills in both the House and Senate that would block the implementation and force the year-long rulemaking process to start over, putting Illinois' waters at risk.

The fight for clean water is long from over. Currently, 60 percent of the country's stream miles are at greater risk for pollution due to Clean Water Act confusion, including 56 percent of stream miles in Illinois.

The risk of pollution not only threatens fisheries but also the thousands of jobs that rely on the hunting and fishing industry, which contributes $3.8 billion in revenue to our state each year.

Sportsmen have been working for years to protect the waters we care about and depend on the most. Hunters and anglers were among the leading advocates in support of passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, and more than 200 sportsmen and conservation groups signed a letter in support of the clean water rule.

That's why I traveled to Washington, D.C,, to tell Sens. Kirk and Durbin why we need them to stand with Illinois sportsmen -- and all of our citizens -- and protect our water supply, our access to recreation, and the sources of such economic impact.

If Congress considers a bill to kill the final clean water rule, both Illinois' senators will be a critical vote. Sen. Durbin has previously supported clean water protections and Sen. Kirk, although active in supporting the Great Lakes, has opposed the protections to the upstream sources which impact and feed the Great Lakes.

Anyone who has ever swam in our beautiful Great Lakes, or fished or boated on our abundant rivers and waters has benefited immeasurably, and should reach out and be heard.

Now is the time to raise our voices in support of clean water -- our economy, and future generations of hunters and anglers, depend on it.

Andy Kurkulis is the owner of Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters and DuPage Fly Fishing Co. in Naperville.

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