Framing the Dialogue

Not A Drop To Drink

scienceFirst the scare…

More than half of U.S. streams unable to support healthy populations of aquatic insects, other creatures

Then the “science”…

“The Environmental Protection Agency sampled nearly 2,000 locations in 2008 and 2009 — from rivers as large as the Mississippi River to streams small enough for wading. The study found more than 55 percent of them in poor condition, 23 percent in fair shape and 21 percent in good biological health.”

“The most widespread problem was high levels of nutrient pollution, caused by phosphorus and nitrogen washing into rivers and streams from farms, cities and sewers. High levels of phosphorus — a common ingredient in detergents and fertilizers — were found in 40 percent of rivers and streams. Another problem detected was development. Land clearing and building along waterways increase erosion and flooding, and allow more pollutants to enter waters.”

“The EPA found some potential risks for human health. In 9 percent of rivers and streams, bacteria exceeded thresholds protective of human health. And mercury, which is toxic, was found in fish tissue along 13,000 miles of streams at levels exceeding health-based standards. Mercury, which is naturally occurring, can enter the environment from coal-burning power plants and from burning hazardous wastes.”

“the southern Appalachian region (which includes Pittsburgh) showed a percentage of streams and rivers with the least healthy waterways — about 64 percent in poor condition.”

Then the politics…

Who doesn’t want clean water?  I know that I do so you must too?  Look at the industries accused of causing the problems; farmers, people, land developers, coal-fired power plants.  So the program is to scare you and then go after what you eat, where you live and how you heat/cool/light your house.  Not to worry though as they’ll simply charge the farmers, developers and power companies more either through taxes or excessive regulation, BUT that cost won’t be passed on to the consumer.

Now the reality…

  • According to the article the U.S. EPA based its claim on “nearly 2,000 locations” where they sampled the water.  According to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Pennsylvania alone has…drum roll please…over 85,000 miles of streams.  So if all of the samples were taken in PA and there were actually 2,000 rather than “nearly 2,000” that would be one sample for every 42.5 miles.  How on Earth can the EPA make any claims based on that sample level.  Any high school student taking statistics class should see that as a problem…a big problem.
  • According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in their 2012 Pennsylvania Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report submitted to EPA;

“As of this report 84,571 miles of streams and rivers are assessed for aquatic life use with 67,972 miles listed as attaining that water use.” [In other words over 80 percent of streams in Pennsylvania are attaining their aquatic life uses.  By the way that’s the terminology that is used to describe stream health.]

  • There was discussion of bacteria/pathogens in streams.  While it is true that sewers leak and cows poop in fields there are other things like homes where the deer and the antelope play…and poop.  FYI and average, adult goose poops around 5-7 pounds a week.
  • The article did admit that mercury is naturally occurring right before it put the blame on coal-fired power plants.  They should have also mentioned the amount of mercury necessary to manufacture that huge battery for your Prius or Chevy Volt.
  • There certainly is pollution from development, however, a great deal of that comes from folks who are not following the law.  So the plan is to pass even more laws.  Huh…kind of sounds like gun control…make is harder for folks who follow the law.
  • Why, in 2013, is EPA using data from 2008?  Because they don’t look at the water quality all that often.
  • The EPA, which recently lost a court case for this, is characterizing sediment water from erosion as a pollutant (AKA stormwater runoff).  Sediment is a pollution and does affect aquatic life, but some of the worst areas are where concentrations of people live like cities where most of the streams are under ground.

Is there still serious stream pollution in America?  Absolutely.  Could water quality be improved?  Again, absolutely!  Has water quality improved in the last half century?  Damn right!  We’ve come a long way and rather than embrace the improvements we want more.  That’s laudable to want clean water, but the costs may be food and energy and the costs may be higher than most people can afford.

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