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POPULATION THREATS TO AMERICA’S RIVERS, ESTUARIES, AND LAKES
Their Health and Future in the Face of Ever-Rising Population Numbers
An NPG Forum Paper
by Christopher J. Daly
A look at a map that displays the full array of our nation’s major rivers makes very clear that they serve as “America’s lifelines.” From the smallest to the mightiest, they start in out-of-the-way corners of the land as small streams, gather volume, and rush past both small communities and large cities to play a monumental role in the life of each and every American. Across the country, we access the fresh water of our nation’s rivers and bays for drinking, raising crops, producing energy, recreation, and other purposes…the list is almost endless.
The United States has over 250,000 rivers that course over 3,500,000 miles. The present challenges to our country’s once pristine waterways have been building from the earliest times America was settled by Europeans. Today, as most Americans are aware, the quality and abundance of fresh water supplied by our rivers is constantly under threat. Throughout the late part of the 20th century, Americans finally awoke to the huge environmental crises overtaking our nation’s waters. Thanks to a massive interest in addressing that problem, the overall health of many rivers is much better. Here at the beginning of the 21st century, many long-standing problems remain to be rectified and the issue of climate change and its impact on rivers and other large bodies of water often takes center stage in discussions related to how we prepare for the future.
Yet, the one major subject that vitally needs to be addressed and acted upon in relation to how our rivers and lakes will survive, is population growth. In short, U.S. population is expected to grow to almost 450 million people – up from its current level of 328 million – by 2060. How will our rivers, estuaries, and lakes fare?
This NPG Forum paper is designed to offer an overview of the present status of a few key river systems. It will also present insights into the status of the Great Lakes as well as the two major U.S. estuaries that are under massive assault by ever-increasing population: the Chesapeake Bay and San Francisco Bay. Any effort to comment on all of the nation’s major waterways would take volumes. This paper can only provide a glimpse of what our nation and people face in working to protect our waters, restore them, and ensure that they will be there to provide all the needs of America’s population well into the future.
THE CLEAN WATER ACT
The chief government agency that oversees America’s rivers, estuaries and lakes is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). One of the greatest accomplishments of the EPA since its founding in 1970 was when Congress finally passed the Clean Water Act of 1972. Wikipedia defines The Clean Water Act (CWA) as “the primary federal law in the United States governing water pollution. Its objective is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the nation’s waters by preventing point and nonpoint pollution sources, providing assistance to publicly owned treatment works for the improvement of wastewater treatment, and maintaining the integrity of wetlands. It is one of the United States’ first and most influential modern environmental laws… Major changes have subsequently been introduced via amendatory legislation including the Clean Water Act of 1977 and the Water Quality Act of 1987.”
However, the EPA is not alone in shaping the future of the nation’s waters. Ever-intrusive tentacles of government on the federal, state, and local levels are constantly at work to help or hamper the health of our streams, rivers, bays, and lakes. In many areas you will find overlaps in authority from powerful federal forces such as the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of the Interior, Coast Guard, and a multitude of commissions and other agencies dictating policy. The actions of these groups – often working in concert with energetic and highly respected non-profit organizations – help frame positive decision-making.
As these groups work to keep our waters clean, it is crucial that they concurrently fight back against the all too prevalent “growth at any cost” philosophy which, in the long term, will only exacerbate the modern-day problems of today’s waterways. In short, the negative impact of population growth in further damaging our rivers, bays, and lakes is not on their radar[…]
Continue reading the full Forum paper by clicking here.
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