A new report by the Environmental Protection Agency found that the majority of rivers and streams in this country can't support healthy aquatic life and the trend is going in the wrong direction. The report labels 55 percent of the nation's water ways as being in "poor" conidtion and another 23 precent as just "fair." Only 21 percent of rivers are considered "good" and "healthy biological communities." Even worse, the number of rivers and streams that qualify as "good" went down seven precent between 2004 and 2009.
The reason for these failing grades is, of course, pollution; specifically, phosphorus and nitrogen pollution that comes from fertilizer and wastewater run-off. Those chemicals, which come from farms and industrial sites, choke off healthy plant growth, which turn leads to more soil erosion, more flooding, and unhealthy fish and wildlife.
The pollution filters down to humans too, since that's the water we drink and the animals we eat. The study also found increased bacteria that in some areas "exceeds thresholds protective of human health" and another 13,000 miles of the rivers that have fish with unhealthy amounts of mercury in them. The worst areas for river pollution are the Northeast and deep South, where a shocking 71 percent of rivers rated "poor."
One of the major indicators of the decline of healthy aquatic life is the decline in water-borne insects. By measuring the declining health of the insect populations, environmentalists take that as warning sign that other wildlife will soon follow.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.