Monday, April 1, 2013

OK, EPA, the waterways are filthy, so what are you going to do?

Here's what Public Employees for Environmental Responsbility, or PEER, says about the EPA's just-released report card on America's streams:
Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the results of the first comprehensive survey of the health of thousands of stream and river miles across the country, finding that more than half – 55% – are in poor condition for aquatic life.
But, a close reading reveals that this was not new data.  It was drawn from the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment – some of this data is five years old.  Moreover, most all of it has been available for months.  Back in November, following the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, PEER released this same data. 

While the EPA news release did not sugar coat matters, it omitted mention of these even more distressing results:
  • More than three-quarters (81%) of U.S. coastal waters are impaired, as are two-thirds (66%) of our bays and estuaries and more than half (51%) of near coastal ocean waters;
  • More than two-thirds (69%) of our lakes, reservoirs and ponds are impaired as are virtually all of the Great Lakes shorelines (98%) and waters (100%); and
  • More than four-fifths (84%) of the nation’s wetlands are also impaired.
Viewed in this context, the EPA headline that more than half of our rivers and streams are in “poor condition” was the good news.  Also unmentioned in this spasm of official semi-candor is even these dismal numbers are likely dramatic underestimates because:
  • The EPA figures are based on “assessed” waters but only 27% of rivers and streams, for example, have been assessed as have only 1% of wetlands;
Even worse, EPA figures show clean water progress has slowed during the Obama term. In 2008, there were 339 impaired waters which were restored to their intended uses but only 109 water-bodies were restored in 2012. Similarly, in 2008 agencies addressed 420 causes of water-body impairment but by 2012 that number had fallen to 255.
So what does EPA propose to do about it?  Very little.  According to its release-
“EPA plans to use this new data to inform decision making about addressing critical needs around the country for rivers, streams, and other waterbodies. This comprehensive survey will also help develop improvements to monitoring these rivers and streams across jurisdictional boundaries…”
I have a better idea as to what EPA should do – START ENFORCING THE CLEAN WATER ACT.  The PEER files are full of cases where EPA is shirking its duty to go after major water polluters.
After 40 years of the Clean Water Act, our rivers may look better and may be less likely to catch on fire, like Ohio’s Cuyahoga River did back in 1969, but the true quality of our waters may be regressing – just ask the next inter-sex fish you encounter. 

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