|Lake Itasca, Mississippi|
This week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the results of the first comprehensive
survey looking at the health of thousands of stream and river miles across the United States and the findings are not good. The survey says more than half, or 55%, are in poor condition for aquatic life.
“The health of our Nation’s rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, and this new science shows that America’s streams and rivers are under significant pressure,” said Office of Water Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner. “We must continue to invest in protecting and restoring our nation’s streams and rivers as they are vital sources of our drinking water, provide many recreational opportunities, and play a critical role in the economy.”
Findings of the Assessment Tell Us:
- There are Excessive Levels of Nitrogen and Phosphorus - Twenty-seven percent of the nation’s rivers and streams have excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40 percent have high levels of phosphorus. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water—known as nutrient pollution—causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.
- Too Many Humans Causing Decreased Vegetation - This is a tough one for me as I love to hang out by the water. Still, it seems that rivers and streams are at an increased risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human disturbance. These conditions can cause more erosion, flooding, and pollution. Vegetation along rivers and streams slows the flow of rainwater so it does not erode stream banks, removes pollutants carried by rainwater and helps maintain water temperatures that support healthy streams for aquatic life. a 1/4 of the rivers and streams monitored were rated poor due to the loss of healthy vegetative cover so be careful by the waters edge folks.
- High Levels of Bacteria - In 9% of rivers and streams, high bacteria levels were found which could potentially make those waters unsafe for swimming and other fun activities.
- High Mercury Levels - As a result of past pollution, more than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption. For most people, the health risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern, but some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child's developing nervous system. If you eat fish frequently from a polluted river, you could be in trouble.
The 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 and enhance the ability of states and tribes to assess and manage water quality to help protect our water, aquatic life, and human health. Results are available for a dozen geographic and ecological regions of the country.
The only worry I have is that the EPA finds positive ways to work with the community to insure that people are educated on how to live sustainably with our rivers and streams and not have their property or personal rights infringed upon.
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