Environmental Programs Threatened by Budget Cutting
It seems in the last few months that the Environmental Protection Agency and its water programs have been threatened by a strong anti-government, budget cutting movement in this country.
It seems in the last few months that the Environmental Protection Agency and its water programs have been threatened by a strong anti-government, budget cutting movement in this country. While I’m all for cutting our bloated national budget, I’m also concerned about the health of our water environment.
As a nation we’ve had a lot of success protecting the environment from pollution, but the work is far from over. And in some cases we’ve stopped moving forward and are either running in place or sliding backward.
In its recently released Coming Together for Clean Water, EPA outlined some of the many challenges faced by the water community. While U.S. water utilities have done a great job cleaning up point source discharges, watersheds across the country continue to be plagued by pollution.
Nutrients, sediments, pharmaceuticals and personal care products are posing new challenges for the scientific and management community alike. In recent USGS watershed studies, human health measures for contaminants were exceeded in one fifth of stream samples, and one third of groundwater wells. Human health benchmarks for pesticides and nitrogen are exceeded in 7 percent of urban stream samples.
The amount of nitrogen and phosphorus pollution entering U.S. waters has grown dramatically in recent years. Nutrient pollution is now one of the costliest and most challenging environmental problems we face. More than half of U.S. streams and more than 40 percent of the nation’s lakes have medium to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus; 78 percent of assessed coastal waters exhibit eutrophication; nitrate drinking water violations have doubled in eight years; algal blooms are steadily on the rise and related toxins like microcystin, which was detected in 30 percent of U.S. lakes, have potentially serious health and ecological effects.
In recent studies, benchmarks for the protection of aquatic life from contaminants were exceeded in half of the streams tested. Thirty-seven percent of native freshwater aquatic species, including fish and sensitive invertebrates, are now at risk of extinction, a much higher percentage than in non-aquatic ecosystems. Sixty-two percent of freshwater plant communities in wetland and riparian areas also are at risk.
While municipal wastewater facilities have done a great job in cleaning up their point-source discharges, that can only take us so far. Managing water resources on a watershed basis is key. And to truly do that, farmers, industry, and the public at large need to be deeply involved and committed to pollution prevention.
The EPA doesn’t always get it right and certainly has had an impact on business in a lot of diverse industries across the country. But gutting environmental protection rules in the name of budget cutting isn’t the best choice for this country.
I don’t want to burden my grandchildren with our mounting national debt, but I also want to insure they have clean air to breath and water that is safe for swimming, fishing and drinking.
James Laughlin, Editor