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Water expert available: U.S. Supreme Court decision on Clean Water Act

‘Groundwater is critical to overall water resilience and security’

EVANSTON, Ill. — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the federal Clean Water Act applies to the pollution of underground water that flows into surface water bodies, such as lakes, streams and bays.

Aaron Packman, one of the world’s leading experts on groundwater dynamics and contamination, is available to comment. Packman is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering and director of Northwestern’s Center for Water Research.

Packman can be contacted directly at or 224-420-2137 (mobile).

Statement from Professor Packman:

“This decision is an important step towards having water law reflect the reality of water systems. Many critical freshwater systems, such as rivers and lakes, directly depend on groundwater discharges. The essential role of groundwater as a source for surface water bodies is extremely clear — for example in maintaining river flow during dry seasons.  

“Across the U.S., water resilience and water security efforts are greatly hindered by the fragmentation of water law, as different rules apply in every state and even within states. Most of this legal framework was established between 50 and 100 or more years ago, when our economy was much smaller, the world was much less connected, and we had much less ability to measure water systems. 

“In the last 40 years, extensive information has become available showing that groundwater discharges are critically important to maintaining safe, high-quality water supplies and supporting both food production and natural ecosystems. In the last 20 years, water managers have recognized that surface waters and groundwater are truly a single resource. We now know that groundwater pollution problems directly affect surface waters, and that groundwater is critical to overall water resilience and security.  

“The Supreme Court groundwater decision will benefit people, industry, and ecosystems across the U.S. by providing a more sensible basis for managing all of our freshwater resources.”