The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released some troubling findings last week from a four-year study on the condition of America’s streams. The agency concluded that 42 percent of the nation’s shallow or “wadeable” streams were in poor environmental condition. Another 25 percent were considered only fair, leaving just 28 percent of streams in good condition.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the streams that fared worst in the study were clustered primarily on the east coast, the most developed and crowded part of the country. Meanwhile, the cleanest, least polluted streams were found west of the Rockies.
The survey, which sampled streams across the contiguous 48 states from 2000 to 2004, determined that proximity to farming, logging and industry represented the greatest threat. By raising the level of nitrogen and phosphorous in streams and other water bodies, these types of activities promote the proliferation of plants and algae that gorge on oxygen, which in turn can choke out aquatic life entirely.
Ken Cook of the nonprofit Environmental Working Group told reporters, “We passed the Clean Water Act 35 years ago, and this is the first time we’ve taken a look at our small rivers and streams. It took too long.” He added that the findings echo what environmentalists already knew about problems on larger river systems across the country.