Troubled Waters

Two decades after passage of the Clean Water Act, American waterways no longer catch fire with chemical pollution, but they do carry invisible toxic waste that threatens fish and people. Congress tackles the issue this fall, but the answers may be as intricate as rivers themselves.

For Norman Maclean, Montana’s Big Blackfoot River was a pristine and spiritual place where any faithful fly fisherman could enjoy a near-religious experience, partaking in the best that nature had to offer. The trout-filled waters of the Blackfoot shaped Maclean’s life and inspired him to write a book, A River Runs Through It, filled with romantic descriptions of the Blackfoot, which inspired Robert Redford to buy the screenplay rights and produce a movie about the beautiful river of Maclean’s youth. Flyfishing, brotherhood, growing up in Montana—the Hollywood production had all the wholesome goodness of homemade bread, except for one thing. By the time Redford was ready to start filming two years ago, some 16 years after the book was published, the Big Blackfoot lacked the asthetics necessary to serve as the setting for the movie.