Water Currents: The Power of Collective Action

Written by Emily

March 6, 2019

By Sarah Davidson

We’re trying something new! Once a month, we’ll be sharing three things that are catching our attention on water-related topics throughout Southeast Alaska and beyond, highlighting policies (What are we following?), actions (What are we doing?), and people or groups that inspire us (What are we learning?). We hope you enjoy our new series, Water Currents. We’d appreciate hearing your feedback and ideas for topics you’d like us to cover.

What are we following?

Proposed Changes to the Clean Water Act: In 1972, a bipartisan Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA), the most comprehensive federal water legislation in the United States.

The CWA protects all waters defined as “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under regulations meant to safeguard drinking water, wildlife, recreation, and other water uses.

Today, the current administration is threatening the CWA by changing the definition of WOTUS to remove protections from important waters across the U.S. But because all waters are connected, this puts every waterway at risk and gives industry a green light to dump toxic waste into creeks, rivers, wetlands, and lakes that were previously protected.

It will take all of our voices and wide-spread collective action to protect everyone’s right to clean water and save the most significant piece of federal legislation for our waters that exists.

The public comment period is currently open through April 15th. Learn more from the Waterkeeper Alliance and submit comments here.

What are we doing?

Petitioning for a Just Process to Protect Alaskan Waters: The recently introduced Senate Bill 51 (SB 51), sponsored by the Senate Resources Committee, is an act that would gut the rights of Alaskans to protect critical waters while making it easier for corporations to pollute them.

The Clean Water Act allows residents of Alaska to protect waters critical to their communities or culture from pollution under a Tier 3 Designation. SB 51 would require a Tier 3 nomination get approval from three different agencies and require a law passed through the legislature to exercise this right. The decision would be political rather than science-based and would make the approval process nearly impossible. Meanwhile, corporations only have to fill out a 6-page online form to get permission to degrade our waters.

Corporations should not be granted rights denied to residents. A Tier 3 designation process to protect waters should be no more onerous than the process to degrade our waters.

The most important thing you can do to add your voice to this effort is to contact Chris Birch, Chair of the Senate Resources Committee (Senator.Chris.Birch@akleg.gov). Please also consider signing our Tier 3 Petition that calls for the state to suspend all permits that degrade our waters until there is an equal process for protecting water.

What are we learning?

Defend the Sacred Alaska is Building a Movement: Defend the Sacred Alaska is bringing people together throughout the state to take actions for justice and decolonize relationships with each other, the lands, the waters, and all living beings.

“We are Alaskans: young people, elders, artists, educators, students, relatives, Alaska Natives, “transplants”, long-time residents, newly arrived, and more. We are Alaskans who value people power in building a just and equitable transition forward.” – Defend the Sacred Alaska

Learn more about the movement here.

The Power of Collective Action

Social and political change rarely occurs without people coming together to demand it. While each of us holds within our grasp the power to make strides and create change, our collective power is magnified.

Yet, working for social or political change can often be overwhelming. The weight of protecting public health, advocating for sovereign land and water rights, or preventing an environmental disaster can sometimes feel too heavy to carry. Add the mind-numbing frustration of underfunded regulatory agencies, decision-makers who lack the political will to prioritize human wellbeing over profit, and devastating fiscal cuts like the ones outlined in Governor Dunleavey’s recently proposed budget, and it can get quite dismal.

But collective action can serve as an antidote to this immense weight. It offers us a way to come together in unity and redirect our anger, frustration, and despair. If we choose to join forces and work collectively on specific issues, we have the ability to affect meaningful and sweeping change. The full power of collective action does not simply rest in the potential outcome of working together, however, but in the moral support, solidarity, and lifting up of one another during the process of working towards a common goal.

The Clean Water Act and Outstanding Natural Resource Water (Tier 3) designations are tools for collective action. They require the opportunity for public participation in the process of determining a course forward. Without these mechanisms, water management decisions would likely be limited to individuals with the most access to decision-making and funding – those industries already causing the most damage. It is critical that we work to preserve the processes that allow communities most impacted by water management decisions to participate in decision-making.

Defend the Sacred Alaska is doing this by calling on Alaskans to stand up for the Arctic, Bristol Bay, and other areas under threat, through inclusive and collective action with a lens towards decolonization.

SEACC has been doing this in Southeast Alaska for nearly 50 years and will continue to notify our members, decision-makers, and the public about ways to engage in collective action to protect Southeast Alaskan waterways and all who depend on them.

Join us in safeguarding the collective action opportunities that exist, including the CWA, and pushing for new ones, such as an administrative Tier 3 process. Nothing will change if we do nothing to change it.

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