The Clean Water Act is one of the most successful pieces of environmental legislation in American history. In 1972, when the Act was passed, only a third of the country’s lakes and rivers could support fishing or swimming. Now two thirds do. But the Act contains an Achilles’ heel: it only protects “navigable” bodies of water—those suitable for the passage of commercial boats. So when polluters dump toxins into wetlands and small streams connected to the larger water system they are often able to do so with impunity.
In advance of the Clean Water Act’s 42nd anniversary, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union wanted to send a strong message to Congress in support of the proposed Waters of the United States rule. WOTUS would strengthen the Clean Water Act to protect the 117 million Americans who get their drinking water from public systems that rely on seasonal, rain-dependent, and headwater streams.
So ART NOT WAR traveled to Colorado’s San Luis Valley to interview RMFU’s Alfonso Abeyta, a fifth generation rancher who relies on clean water to grow the crops we eat. The resulting video features “Cuyahoga”–a song by R.E.M, used with permission of the band, about the dire environmental conditions that caused the river of the same name in Ohio to catch fire for the 13th time back in 1969. The disaster helped urge Congress to pass the Clean Water Act just a few years later.
Members of R.E.M. shared ART NOT WAR’s video via their million-plus social media network. And Alfonso presented the piece to local media and union officials at the Denver History Museum. He then went on to Washington DC to show the video at in-person meetings with the same members of Congress who’ll ultimately decide if the WOTUS rule is passed in 2015.