An Ode to the Clean Water Act
On May 25th, we entered a new era of clean water work.  For more than a generation, the Clean Water Act has been used to protect the waters of the […]
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On May 25th, we entered a new era of clean water work. 

For more than a generation, the Clean Water Act has been used to protect the waters of the United States. That work will be more difficult now. The Clean Water Act has been largely disempowered of its ability to protect wetlands from pollutant discharge – making industrial development and the associated permitting processes significantly less burdensome. 

The Supreme Court decision in the case Sackett v. EPA represents the most profound rollback of Clean Water Act protections to date – with notable implications for wetlands, and therefore, for Alaska.

Over 40% of Alaska’s land is wetland – sponges that clean water, support fisheries, and sustain life. This change in the regulatory framework favors the industrialization of intact ecosystems and healthy wetlands by limiting the ability of the Federal Government to intervene in the State of Alaska’s extractive, colonial, and industrially-driven permitting processes.

Here are some things that look true through our eyes:

  • “Rigorous permitting” is a myth. 
  • The regulatory framework favors the extractive status-quo. 
  • There isn’t a meaningful way to say no to industrialization that sacrifices the health of water.
  • There is no free, prior, and informed consent. 
  • Industrialization damages the health of wetlands and water. 
  • We live in one of the most abundantly alive and intact places in the world. 
  • We have been stripped of one of our most historically efficacious tools for protecting clean water and the life it sustains.  
  • Water work is changing. 

We are being called to awaken to the needs of our living planet and our inability to survive without a robust web-of-life – our inseparability from the ecology all around us – and yet we are doubling-down. One more mining boom. One more pipeline. One more discharge permit. One more rollback of regulatory protections. One more dredge and fill. One more wetland compromised. 


Our bodies are mostly water. The earth is mostly water. The bodies of our grandchildren – and their grandchildren – will be made mostly of water as well. We are not separate from the wetlands around us. Our continued sociopolitical investment in extractive industry, and in the commodification and sacrifice of wetlands, is among our most remarkable displays of hubris. 

All of us – however we got here – are stewarding some of the healthiest wetlands that remain on earth. In light of the recent undoing of regulatory protections for wetlands, we are tasked with renewing our effort to inculcate a clean water ethic in our structures of governance, communities, and selves. 

What can we do now?

  • Speak with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels – tell them how much clean water means to you!
  • Engage with clean water initiatives in your community – make clean water connections! 
  • Find ways to notice and be grateful for clean water in your life – let it inspire you! 

May we envision abundant and just futures, free from the exploitation, commodification, and colonization of water – the source of all life.