With the title “Poisoned Waters” a recent Frontline Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) program certainly catches our attention. “Poisoned Waters”, an investigative report with Hedrick Smith as correspondent, shows the kinds of pollution now contaminating America’s waterways, political obstacles blocking restoration of great estuaries like the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, and some local strategies that have scored successes. The documentary video was designed to stimulate public discussion of crucial issues and effective techniques of water pollution control. It is intended for teachers, parents, and anyone interested in improving water quality in the US. Those interested in watching “Poisoned Waters” can do so on-line, obtain other resources about the program, and learn what they can do. Visit the web at www.pbs.org/frontline/poisonedwaters . Information to obtain a copy of the program’s DVD is at the same website or by calling PBS 1-800-531-4727.
When Congress passed the Clean Water Act in 1972, it called for America’s waterways to be swimmable and fishable again by 1983. But our great waterways are still in peril and face new waves of pollution. For a decade or so after the Clean Water Act, tough enforcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made significant gains by targeting “point sources pollution”- pollution coming out of a pipe- the EPA repaired some of the worst damage. But the challenge today is more complex, largely because today’s pollution is nearly invisible.
Contaminants pervade our lives. Harmful chemicals exist in everyday consumer products from home cleaning agents to pesticides and herbicides that we use on our lawns, to personal care products like toothpaste, deodorants, shampoos, certain soaps, and discarded pharmaceuticals. When it rains, stormwater runoff from roads and highways carries a toxic cocktail from our trucks and cars, our farms and rooftops, our driveways and parking lots into our rivers, streams, lakes, and bays. Add to that the enormously damaging runoff from agricultural operations across the country, primarily large livestock operations. The runoff from manure piles carries not only bacteria and e coli into our waterways but also excess nitrogen and phosphorus, and they spawn the dead zones which suffocate crabs, oysters, fish, and other species. The third major challenge comes from growth and the sprawl of development- millions of people crowding into the land that lies close to our major waterways and paving over thousands of acres of forest and farmland. These congregations of people not only cause gridlock and ugly sprawl, but spells disaster for the quality of water, unless we learn how to mitigate the impact of so much unchecked growth.
Solutions do exist. Local communities are cleaning up old industrial sites. Watershed coalitions are recovering natural habitat for endangered species. Grass roots groups have curbed uncontrolled growth. Suburban counties have adopted “Smart Growth” strategies. Others have tackled the difficult issues of better land use to protect the environment. So steps can be taken. Each of us has an important role. So use the video to increase your awareness of water quality issues, and then join with your local community organization, government, and soil and water conservation district (SWCD) to help clean up you local waters.