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Survey Finds More Than Half of U.S. River and Streams in Poor Condition

lakeThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) recently released the results of the first comprehensive survey that reviewed the condition of thousands of stream and river miles across the country. The study found that 55 percent are in poor condition for aquatic life. The 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment reflects the most comprehensive recent data available, and is part of the USEPA’s expanded effort to monitor waterways in the U.S. and gather scientific data on the condition of the nation’s water resources.

The USEPA partnered with states and tribes to collect data from approximately 2,000 sites across the country. The data was analyzed to determine the extent to which rivers and streams support aquatic life, how major stressors may be affecting them, and how conditions change over time.

The study's findings include:

Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels.
Twenty-seven percent of the nation’s rivers and streams have excessive levels of nitrogen, and about 40 percent have high levels of phosphorus. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes significant increases in algae, which adversely impacts water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen available that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Nutrient pollution has impacted many streams, rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters for the past several decades, resulting in serious environmental and human health issues, and impacting the economy.

Streams and rivers are at an increased risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human disturbance. These conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and pollution. Vegetation along rivers and streams slows the flow of rainwater so it does not erode stream banks, removes pollutants carried by rainwater, and helps maintain water temperatures that support healthy streams for aquatic life. Approximately 24 percent of the rivers and streams monitored were rated poor due to the loss of healthy vegetative cover.

Increased bacteria levels. High bacteria levels were found in nine percent of stream and river miles making those waters potentially unsafe for swimming and other recreational activities.

Increased mercury levels.
More than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption. For most people, the health risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a significant concern, but some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or a young child's developing nervous system.

Water treatment facilities across the country are designed to address these issues and many more, to ensure the availability of an abundant supply of safe, high-quality finished water. However, it is important to recognize the importance of protecting the quality of the nation's rivers and streams to help control treatment costs and provide stewardship of our greatest resources.

The USEPA plans to use this new data to promote informed decision making about addressing critical needs around the country for rivers, streams, and other waterbodies. This comprehensive survey will also help develop improvements toward monitoring these rivers and streams across jurisdictional boundaries and enhance the ability of states and tribes to assess and manage water quality to help protect our water, aquatic life, and human health. More information can be accessed about the USEPA's aquatic surveys by clicking here.

 

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please contact Heather Syverson at 701-364-9111 or Heather.Syverson@ae2s.com.
 
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