updated 9:52 PM EDT, Mar 26, 2015
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Proposed rule could end decades-long battles

By John Michaelson, Texas News Service

AUSTIN, Texas - It's a plan to better protect the most vulnerable waters across the state and nation, and among those giving cheers are some Texas beer lovers.

The proposed rule aims to end the long-running legal battle over how to apply the Clean Water Act by clearly defining which water bodies fall under its protections. That clarity is vital, said Josh Hare, director of brewing operations for Hops and Grain Brewing in Austin.

"We definitely feel, especially here in Texas, that a lot of the streams and creeks that are flowing into our main water supply are going to be protected if all of this comes to fruition," he said. "Right now they're not, and because we rely so much on that clean water, ensuring that we have that good, clean water supply really helps us in our business - from an operational cost standpoint, but also just quality of product."

The rule also has the support of such environmental groups as the Texas Conservation Alliance. Its executive director, Janice Bezanson, said the streams that would be protected by this rule provide drinking water for more than 11 million Texans.

"The rule is wonderful in what it does, because it restores protection to water that historically had the protection under the Clean Water Act," she said, "and then, there was this sort of legal limbo 10 years ago that has left a lot of confusion."

Nationally, it's estimated that once finalized, this rule would better protect the drinking water supplies for roughly one-third of all Americans.

Despite the positives, Bezanson said the rule does fall short in one area, by not fully restoring protections for many natural wetlands.

"There's a concept of 'isolated wetlands,' and it's not a good term because they are not really isolated, but there are some wetland that are just not immediately connected to a river or a lake," she said. "Things like Playa Lakes up in the Texas panhandle. These are extremely important both for agriculture and for wildlife, but this rule will not extend protection to those wetlands, and it needs to do so."

The proposed rule, from the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers, is subject to a 90-day public comment period. More information on the rule is at water.epa.gov and nwf.org.