Swim at Your Own Risk: Federal Government Fails to Prioritize Water Protection
By Peter Lehner
Some kids are afraid of sharks. In the ponds where I like to swim, it’s snapping turtles—although I’ve never heard of one hurting a swimmer. Or they might even fear some sort of imaginary water monster, scaly and horrible, lurking in rivers and streams. As thousands of families head to the waterfront for the start of the season, parents are preparing to coax their kids into the water. But in some communities, the danger in the water is all too real. In Georgia’s Lake Blackshear, they’re afraid of E. Coli. In Talco, TX, it’s oil.
Yes, there be monsters here, but not the kind with tentacles and sharp teeth. These monsters are carcinogenic chemicals, crude oil and dangerous bacteria, spilled or dumped—often illegally and without penalty—by industrial polluters, into small streams and wetlands, from where they can wash into bigger lakes, rivers, oceans and even drinking water supplies. For more than a decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been hamstrung when polluters contaminated certain streams and wetlands, thanks to some muddled Supreme Court rulings and Bush-era policies that made Clean Water Act enforcement nearly impossible in these cases. And yet for the past two years, the Obama administration has been sitting on an opportunity to better protect these waters. The administration has proposed strong protections for these waters, but has waited and waited to put them into effect. It’s high time the administration moved forward to strengthen clean water protections.
The Clean Water Act is our nation's fundamental safeguard for water. Yet tens of millions of wetland acres—which protect drinking water, and provide crucial flood protection and wildlife habitat—have been effectively cut out of Clean Water Act protections. And about 2 million miles of streams, which provide drinking water for 117 million people, along with the wetlands nearby, are in a legal limbo that prevents many of them from being protected. Hundreds of communities have been left at the mercy of polluters.
In Georgia, swimmers and boaters on Lake Blackshear have to deal with manure in the water, washed in by a factory farm upstream, because enforcement efforts were hampered. When crude oil spilled into Edwards Creek, a small, seasonal stream in Talco, TX, the EPA didn’t even bother to pursue enforcement, despite the fact that half the residents in the county get their drinking water from systems that rely on streams like these. The current legal tangle made it too complex to prove that Edwards Creek was protected under the Clean Water Act. This is what the administration's proposal would fix.
Ensuring that small streams and wetlands are protected is an important measure for public health, and a sound economic decision as well. Wetlands soak up overflows from storms and swollen rivers like sponges, protecting billions of dollars’ worth of property and countless lives each year.
Across the country, we have 9.6 million homes and $390 billion in property located in 15,000 square miles of flood-prone areas. The flood insurance provided by protecting wetlands helps avoid the price, in economic and in emotional terms, we pay for rebuilding stricken towns.
According to the New York Times, EPA regulators said that in a four-year period, more than 1,500 major pollution investigations involving oil spills, carcinogenic chemicals and dangerous bacteria in lakes, rivers and other water bodies, were not being prosecuted.
Moving forward with new Clean Water Act protections will help preserve wetlands and small streams so more communities can have a reliable drinking water supply, swim without fear of getting sick and protect themselves and their families from devastating floods. It will help provide certainty for businesses and industry and support billions of dollars in economic activity, from manufacturers who need clean, ample water—like brewers—to the millions of anglers who fish in rivers, streams and lakes across the country. As global warming promises to deliver more extreme weather, disrupting water supplies and increasing flooding in many parts of the country, defending our waters from pollution becomes an even more critical effort.
It’s time to end the delay.
Visit EcoWatch’s WATER page for more related news on this topic.
At first glance, you wouldn't think avocados and almonds could harm bees; but a closer look at how these popular crops are produced reveals their potentially detrimental effect on pollinators.
Migratory beekeeping involves trucking millions of bees across the U.S. to pollinate different crops, including avocados and almonds. Timothy Paule II / Pexels / CC0<p>According to <a href="https://www.fromthegrapevine.com/israeli-kitchen/beekeeping-how-to-keep-bees" target="_blank">From the Grapevine</a>, American avocados also fully depend on bees' pollination to produce fruit, so farmers have turned to migratory beekeeping as well to fill the void left by wild populations.</p><p>U.S. farmers have become reliant upon the practice, but migratory beekeeping has been called exploitative and harmful to bees. <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2019/05/10/health/avocado-almond-vegan-partner/index.html" target="_blank">CNN</a> reported that commercial beekeeping may injure or kill bees and that transporting them to pollinate crops appears to negatively affect their health and lifespan. Because the honeybees are forced to gather pollen and nectar from a single, monoculture crop — the one they've been brought in to pollinate — they are deprived of their normal diet, which is more diverse and nourishing as it's comprised of a variety of pollens and nectars, Scientific American reported.</p><p>Scientific American added how getting shuttled from crop to crop and field to field across the country boomerangs the bees between feast and famine, especially once the blooms they were brought in to fertilize end.</p><p>Plus, the artificial mass influx of bees guarantees spreading viruses, mites and fungi between the insects as they collide in midair and crawl over each other in their hives, Scientific American reported. According to CNN, some researchers argue that this explains why so many bees die each winter, and even why entire hives suddenly die off in a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder.</p>
Avocado and almond crops depend on bees for proper pollination. FRANK MERIÑO / Pexels / CC0<p>Salazar and other Columbian beekeepers described "scooping up piles of dead bees" year after year since the avocado and citrus booms began, according to Phys.org. Many have opted to salvage what partial colonies survive and move away from agricultural areas.</p><p>The future of pollinators and the crops they help create is uncertain. According to the United Nations, nearly half of insect pollinators, particularly bees and butterflies, risk global extinction, Phys.org reported. Their decline already has cascading consequences for the economy and beyond. Roughly 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops around the world depend on bees and other pollinators for free fertilization services worth billions of dollars, Phys.org noted. Losing wild and native bees could <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wild-bees-crop-shortage-2646849232.html" target="_self">trigger food security issues</a>.</p><p>Salazar, the beekeeper, warned Phys.org, "The bee is a bioindicator. If bees are dying, what other insects beneficial to the environment... are dying?"</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Australia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It is home to more than 7% of all the world's plant and animal species, many of which are endemic. One such species, the Pharohylaeus lactiferus bee, was recently rediscovered after spending nearly 100 years out of sight from humans.
Scientists have newly photographed three species of shark that can glow in the dark, according to a study published in Frontiers in Marine Science last month.
- 10 Little-Known Shark Facts - EcoWatch ›
- 4 New Walking Shark Species Discovered - EcoWatch ›
- 5 Incredible Species That Glow in the Dark - EcoWatch ›
FedEx's entire parcel pickup and delivery fleet will become 100 percent electric by 2040, according to a statement released Wednesday. The ambitious plan includes checkpoints, such as aiming for 50 percent electric vehicles by 2025.
- Which Is Worse for the Planet: Beef or Cars? - EcoWatch ›
- Greenhouse Gas Levels Hit Record High Despite Lockdowns, UN ... ›
- 1.8 Billion Tons More Greenhouse Gases Will Be Released, Thanks ... ›