More than half of U.S. streams unable to support healthy populations of aquatic insects, other creatures
WASHINGTON — More than half of the country's rivers and streams are in poor biological health, unable to support healthy populations of aquatic insects and other creatures, according to a new nationwide survey released on Tuesday.
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.
“This new science shows that America's streams and rivers are under significant pressure,” said Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator of EPA's water office. “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.”
Conditions are worse in the East, the report found. More than 70 percent of streams and rivers from the Texas coast to the New Jersey coast are in poor shape. Streams and rivers are healthiest in Western mountain areas, where only 26 percent were classified as in poor condition.
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 Obama administration finalized regulations to control mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants for the first time in late 2011.
As for biological conditions, 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. That's second worst in the country, behind the region to the south of Kentucky.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- U.S. lowers fluoride in water; too much causing splotchy teeth
- Study a surprise: Commercial bees unfazed by pesticides
- Corinthian Colleges to shut down more than two dozen remaining schools
- Presley’s planes will remain at Graceland
- Supreme Court leans toward legalizing gay marriage nationally
- Severe storm with tornado roars into north Texas
- Oregon mulls law limiting antibiotic use on livestock
- McCain renews push to have military, not CIA, manage drone strikes
- At New York City rally, United States urged to acknowledge slaughter of Armenians as genocide
- High morale linked to longer survival among elderly
- Federal judge who blocked Obama immigration order painted as unbiased