Looking Back Upstream: Eight Clean Water Success Stories from 2010

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With record snowfalls in the books already the river rats here at PL become feverish when thinking about the inevitable melts that come with the onset of spring. A few sunny days at the end of February only add to the anxiety. With that in mind, we’ve decided to take a look back and highlight the River Network’s Clean Water success stories from 2010…

Todd Ambs, president of River Network, recently announced their most compelling success stories from 2010. “We are proud to share a handful of the hundreds of victories that our affiliated grassroots citizen organizations have achieved this year,” said Ambs, “however, the threats facing our water resources are more pressing than ever, with nearly 50 percent of our waterways not meeting state water quality standards.”

Ambs and The River Network have been fighting to save and improve our nations rivers for more than 20 years. Since 1998, the grass-roots organization has worked tirelessly to improve the quality of our nations rivers for both wildlife and humans. At times the battle has been (pardon the pun) a little like walking upstream.

Ambs says, “Our nation’s waters are increasingly unfit for drinking and family activities, unhealthy for fish and wildlife, and vulnerable to a changing climate, droughts and flooding, and polluted runoff. Despite these challenges, I’m inspired daily by the passion, commitment and dedication of the growing number of people leading efforts to protect and restore their local rivers”

River Network’s mission is to empower and unite people and communities to protect and restore rivers and other waters that sustain the health of our country. With more than 650 affiliated partner groups located in every state, River Network is building a powerful new water protection movement in the United States. Check out their website here: RiverNetwork.org.

The success stories of these rivers are a testament to the efforts of The River Network. For those interested in joining River Network to celebrate similar victories next year volunteer contact information has been provided.

Los Angeles: Navigating for a Healthier River
Few rivers have been more altered than the Los Angeles River. By 1960, all but a handful of the river’s 51 miles had been paved into a flood control channel. However, in 2008, a group of intrepid kayakers floated the concrete canyon to prove that the river is indeed still navigable. In July of this year, river advocates scored a major victory when EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson came to town to officially declare the L.A. River navigable, a decision that affirms that the river deserves protection under the Clean Water Act and opens the door to new restoration efforts.
Local Contact: Shelley Backlar, Friends of the Los Angeles River, 323-223-0585.
River Network Contact: Merritt Frey, 801-486-1224

New Mexico: Protecting the Best in the West
The clear mountain streams of the Southern Rockies are a lifeline for most anyone who lives in New Mexico, from city dwellers to ranchers to businesses. Happily, more than 700 miles of those rivers, 29 lakes, and approximately 6,000 acres of wetlands were designated in November as Outstanding Natural Resource Waters (ONRWs). This Clean Water Act designation allows for existing uses but means that any new activities that would contaminate these vital headwaters are now prohibited.
Local Contact: Rachel Conn, Amigos Bravos, 575-770-8327
River Network Contact: Merritt Frey, 801-486-1224

Chicago: A “Backwards” River Gains New Protection
In the 19th Century, a burgeoning Chicago desperately needed a way to dispose of sewage and other wastes. Instead of dumping into Lake Michigan, engineers reversed the flow of a tributary, the Chicago River, by channeling it to drain west into the Mississippi. In recent years however, Chicagoans have come to regard its namesake river as more than a sewage canal and residents now regularly boat and fish right in the middle of downtown. In August, river advocates won an important victory when state officials ruled that local officials need to protect the river for these uses, and not just toilet flushing.
Local Contact: Margaret Frisbie, Friends of the Chicago River, (312) 939-0490, x22
River Network Contact: Gayle Killam, 503-542-8387

The Rogue River: Another [Dam] Bites the Dust
In October, contractors completed the removal of 100-year old Gold Ray Dam from the Rogue River, the last barrier to salmon and steelhead in the lower 157 miles of the Rogue. Within two weeks of removal, biologists counted over 30 salmon nests, or redds, in the reach of river previously inundated by the dam. Dam removal advocates had put together and built support for a $5 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant that funded removal of the dam.
Combined with removals of Savage Rapids Dam (2009), Gold Hill Dam (2008), Elk Creek Dam (2008) and the largest transfer of water instream in Oregon’s history (800 cubic feet per second), WaterWatch’s vision for a free flowing Rogue River with protected streamflows is now realized.
Local Contact: John DeVoe, WaterWatch, 503-295-4039
River Network Contact: Katherine Luscher, 503-542-8397

North Carolina: Helping a River Breathe
Anything that lives in a river needs oxygen just like we do. Along the Yadkin River in North Carolina, Alcoa’s four dams have been suffocating river life downstream by discharging oxygen-poor waters from the bottom of their reservoirs for years. In early December, river restoration advocates gained a huge legal victory when the state of North Carolina revoked the Clean Water Act certification that the dam operators needed in order to renew their
FERC license for the next 50 years. During litigation initiated by the Yadkin Riverkeeper, e-mail evidence and testimony from Alcoa representatives and DWQ staff demonstrated that the company had withheld information showing that proposed dam upgrades would not be able to meet water quality standards for dissolved oxygen. DWQ then acted to revoke the certification.
Local Contact: Dean Naujoks, Yadkin Riverkeeper, 336-293-8105
River Network Contact: Gayle Killam, 503-542-8387

New York: A Closer Look at “Fracking”
High-volume hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water thousands of feet underground to crack shale and release natural gas trappedinside it. Many communities are deeply concerned that fracking is contaminating local water supplies. In December Governor Paterson issued Executive Order 41, directing the state’s environmental agency to re-issue its draft drilling plan for public comment. New York will not issue any permits for high volume fracking until the final drilling plan is issued, which cannot happen until July 2011 at the earliest.
Local Contact: Katherine Nadeau, Environmental Advocates, 518-462-5526
River Network Contact: Merritt Frey, 801-486-1224

Wisconsin: Helping Rivers Breathe (Part II)
In Wisconsin, state and local river advocates helped rally support for new state policies (among the strongest in the nation) that will reduce phosphorus pollution from farm runoff, stormwater and other sources. Too much phosphorus in rivers triggers algae blooms that consume all the oxygen in the water, suffocating all river life.
Local Contact: Lori Grant, River Alliance of Wisconsin, 608- 257-2424
River Network Contact: Todd Ambs, 608-692-9974

Appalachia: Mountains and Rivers Get a Break
Few areas in the world have a greater diversity of species that depend on freshwater than the Appalachian Mountains. However, since 1992, some 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been buried under debris from mountaintop removal coal mining, which blasts the tops off mountains and pollutes water, while an area the size of Delaware has been deforested further harming water supplies for the region. After a concerted campaign by dozens of environmental protection organizations, including several River Network Partners, EPA issued a landmark decision in April that will require state and local governments to implement tougher Clean Water Act permit policies for mountaintop mines.