EPA released the results of a comprehensive survey yesterday that shows that more than half – 55 percent – of our nation’s streams and rivers are in poor condition. More than half.
That’s a 10 percent increase from the 2002 survey, which found that 45% of assessed rivers and streams were impaired. What’s particularly striking about the latest survey are the levels of nutrient pollution: 27 percent of our rivers and streams were found to have excessive levels of nitrogen and 40% have excessive levels of phosphorous. Nutrient pollution can lead to dangerous algal blooms (like this one in Lake Erie), which kill fish, close beaches and harm local economies.
At the end of EPA’s press release, I noticed this statement, “EPA plans to use this new data to inform decision making about addressing critical needs around the country for rivers, streams, and other waterbodies.”
There’s one decision EPA and the Administration could make tomorrow that would show how seriously they take the importance of protecting our water resources. The Administration could finalize and release the guidance that EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers drafted that would restore Clean Water Act protections to all the waters of the U.S.
As I noted last year, and my colleague Jon Devine has blogged about here and here, this guidance will lift EPA out of the legal limbo it’s been in for more than a decade, helping it to more effectively protect the smaller rivers and streams from the very types of pollution this latest survey documents.
After all, what good is data if it doesn’t spur action?