River News for the Week of September 22, 2000
SALMON RECOVERY: This week the House approved a bill that would earmark up to $600 million over the next three years for salmon recovery in the states of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and Idaho. 15 percent of the funds would go to tribes to recover endangered and threatened salmon and the rest would be divided equally among the five western states. As reports the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce (9/19), "the bill by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., writes into law the West Coast salmon initiative that four western governors proposed in 1998 and for which President Clinton has sought money over the past two years." A similar version of the bill in the Senate has not yet been proposed, but Thompson anticipates that the Senate will take up his bill before Congress adjourns next month.
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WHITE RIVER: The recent disastrous fish kill in the White River in Indiana is being used as a political platform by Rep. David McIntosh (R) against Gov. Frank O'Bannon (D), who he accuses of "saying nothing and failing to alert residents of a fish kill in the river." As reports the National Journal (9/18), McIntosh's add says: "Frank O'Bannon: Bad for fish, wrong for Indiana" to which O'Bannon has responded by saying that he actually cleaned up and restocked the White River. O'Bannon has maintained his lead in that gubernatorial race.
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MERCED RIVER: The National Parks Service has been informed by California officials that the agency will be fined $10,000 per day the next time there is a break in the Yosemite Valley sewer line. Inadequate planning and inattention by the National Park Service has contributed to the chronic sewage spills that have polluted Yosemite National Park and the Merced River, according to regional water officials. 17 spills have occurred in the last 2 ½ years, since a massive flood dislocated park sewer lines and filled them with debris in 1997. As reports the Los Angeles Times (9/16), "the last and most severe leak occurred July 27, when the Park Service's attempt to test a newly repaired sewer line went awry, spilling 200,000 gallons of raw sewage over California 140 and into the Merced River." Park officials say they now believe most needed repairs to the sewer system have been made.
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ILLINOIS RIVER: A bill to clean up the Illinois River has been bogged down in Congress since February, and with Congress now three weeks from its scheduled adjournment date, supporters worry that it won't get the approval it needs. In February of this year, Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood announced the Illinois Rivers 2020 proposal, a 20-year, $2.5 billion proposal to restore the river. However, the proposal depends on congressional approval, since 96 percent of its financing is due to come from the federal government. As Congress nears its adjournment, Missouri's chances for getting that approval are in doubt, reports the St. Louis Post Dispatch (9/18).
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DAM REMOVAL: State environmental officials in Michigan are targeting the removal of 30 dams in that state that they believe to be in danger of crumbling, harmful to fish, or in place without any apparent purpose. Located in Wayne, Washtenaw, Genesee, Saginaw and at least 20 other counties, removal of the structures has been bogged down by lack of funds and a state dam-removal policy last revised in 1979. As reports the Detroit News (9/18), DNR officials requested an annual appropriation of $1.5 million from state lawmakers to markedly expand and revise the current dam-removal policy that dates from 1979 - a request that was turned down for fiscal 2001. Out of the state's 2,400 dams, only 114 have been or are being used for hydropower. The others are relics from defunct sawmills and logging operations, or are used for farm irrigation, fish ponds, or barriers to storm flooding.
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HUDSON RIVER: After nearly 30 years of cleanup efforts, the Hudson River has "rebounded from a dumping ground for human and industrial waste to one of New York's leading recreational sites," reports the San Diego Union (9/18). For the first time this summer, hundreds of people swam in the Hudson River, and the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation want to create a string of state-operated beaches along its shores from the northern tip of Manhattan to Columbia County, just south of Albany. Thanks to the Clean Water Act, pollution controls have cleaned up the river and made much of it fit for swimming. However, some still doubt the safety of the river, claiming that the river still looks and smells "nasty."
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NASHUA RIVER: Oil from an overnight rupture in a paper company's 60,000- gallon tank polluted the Nashua River in Massachusetts this week. An undetermined amount of No. 6 fuel oil entered the river when a tank at Crocker Technical Papers sprang a leak. The DEP, along with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, are now focusing on cleaning up the spill and preventing further damage. No reports have yet been received about fish kills resulting from the spill, and no drinking supplies have yet been affected.
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CHESAPEAKE BAY: The health of the Chesapeake Bay remains poor, receiving only a grade of 28 on a scale of a hundred in the annual State of the Bay report by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Despite improvements such as restoring forest buffers along Chesapeake Bay area waterways and boosting shad and pollution-filtering oyster fisheries, the grade is no better than that given a year ago. Primarily to blame for the continued poor health of the bay is sprawl that continues to destroy nearby land. As reports the Washington Post (9/21), "the paving over of farmlands and forests throughout the watershed, at a rate of 90,000 acres each year, and the subsequent pollution that population growth and development spawn are working against efforts to stop the loss of wetlands and decrease pollution that washes into the bay."
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CALIFORNIA WATER: A revised water pact between California and the U.S. government was approved this week in a House committee, but since both administrations oppose the bill, its ultimate fate is uncertain. State lawmakers had failed to approve a similar bill called CalFed which attempts to ensure a more reliable source of water for cities, farmers and wildlife by balancing the needs of growers while keeping enough water in the Delta east of San Francisco to protect the environment. As reports the San Francisco Chronicle (9/20), the Resources Committee approved the revised pack that would give $60 million to the CalFed project and change aspects of the program by raising the water level in key dams, restoring the delta and its tributaries, boosting water recycling and fixing the delta levee system. As reports the Chronicle, "environmentalists criticized the bill for opening the door to new dams and potentially hurting endangered species." The new bill is H.R. 5130.
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DELAWARE AND PENNSYLVANIA WATERS: Polluted runoff is being blamed for the continued poor health of creeks in eastern Delaware County and western Philadelphia. As reports the Philadelphia Inquirer (9/21), a coalition of government agencies and community groups called the Darby-Cobbs Watershed Partnership released a report this week blaming runoff and calling for improving water quality in Darby and Cobbs Creeks through stream-bank restoration and controls on development. Researchers contributing to the report measured chemicals and insect diversity in the streambed for a year. High levels of fecal coliform bacteria coming from sewer overflows, leaky septic tanks, and runoff from neighborhood streets were judged the worst contamination problem, with streams passing state water-quality standards for bacteria in only six out of 100 tests. However, even if streams are restored to their correct chemical balances, if their flow is not restored to its slow, meandering natural state, fish will consider to suffer and not return since they are unable to find the insects they need to survive. The research will be incorporated into a comprehensive watershed management plan within two years, with recommendations for stream-bank and wetlands restoration and passage of local ordinances to control storm runoff.
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AGRICULTURAL RUNOFF: At least eight manure spills killing nearly 900,000 fish occurred in Minnesota between 1995 and 1998, and state officials investigated another 41 incidents during that time. According to a report released this week by the Clean Water Network, the Izaak Walton League and the Natural Resources Defense Council, the study complied records from state pollution and natural resources agencies and calls for "greater regulation of feedlots, a national system for recording pollution from them and financial help for small livestock operations." Among problems identified in the report were overflows from manure pits, unregulated manure disposal on fields and other problems - and the findings may only be the tip of the iceberg, the groups warn. As reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune (9/21), the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the agency to issue permits for feedlots and enforces water-quality laws, is not disputing the fish-kill numbers, but says the problems occurred before it could hire enough inspectors to monitor the state's estimated 45,000 feedlots. The report documents 250 manure spills between 1995 and 1998 that killed 3.3 million fish in five Midwestern states.
Also concerning agriculture, the state of Virginia this week adopted its first environmental regulations of poultry farming -- the state's wealthiest agribusiness. Chickens and turkeys in that state leave behind more than 1 billion pounds of manure each year, much of which can find itself entering waterways. Under the new regulations approved by the State Water Control Board, each of Virginia's 1,309 poultry farmers must "obtain a state permit next year, complete a pollution-management plan and track where their birds' manure is sold or applied as fertilizer." Large poultry processors such as Tyson Foods and Perdue must help to identify alternative uses for these wastes, such as fertilizer pellets, animal feed and power-plant fuels. But as reports the Knight Rider (9/21), the companies will not be liable for environmental damage that might result from wastes washing off farms during rains and polluting state waters with excessive ammonia, nitrogen or phosphorus -- farmers will continue to bear that responsibility. Runoff, especially from livestock operations, has been declared by the Clinton administration to be the biggest threat to American waterways.
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OREGON WATERS: Irrigators are responsible for drying up ten rivers and streams in the state of Oregon each summer, while filling the needs of farms, cities and industries. Ranging from sections of the John Day in Eastern Oregon to the South Yamhill in the Willamette Valley, the dry streams endanger fish and other aquatic life thanks to an "outdated state water-permit system that gives existing water users the right to withdraw as much water as they need." The group WaterWatch of Oregon released the report, which is the first statewide accounting of rivers and streams that are oversubscribed - streams in which more water rights are allocated than the waterways can accommodate. State officials acknowledge the problem but say their hands are tied since it wasn't until 1955 that the Legislature passed a law requiring that enough water be left in rivers for fish, reports the Oregonian (9/20). Therefore, water rights issued before 1955 don't take into account the needs of fish, and water permit owners needn't worry about the effects of their withdrawal on rivers and streams.
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ACTION ALERT: SNAKE RIVER! President Clinton Must Stop Rider
That Would Block Snake River Restoration!
On September 21, members of the House-Senate Conference on Interior Appropriations included an anti-Snake River Restoration amendment (rider) in the Interior Appropriations Conference Report for FY'01. Introduced by Senator Slade Gorton (R-WA), the rider would prohibit federal agencies from spending any money to further study dam removal to save endangered Snake River salmon. The intent of this rider is directly counter to the National Marine Fisheries Services' (NMFS) recently released draft salmon recovery plan. The NMFS plan directs agencies to undertake a suite of actions to help the salmon and initiates further engineering and economic study of dam removal so that this option will be quickly available should other actions fail to restore the salmon.
WE NEED YOUR HELP TODAY TO KEEP ALL RECOVERY OPTIONS ON THE TABLE! Email and call President Clinton and urge him to veto the FY'01 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill to stop this anti-salmon rider, which would harm both the environment and potentially federal taxpayers.
To contact President Clinton by phone, call 202-456-1414.
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JOB OPPORTUNITY: American Rivers is seeking a Associate Director
Communications for our DC headquarters, to work closely with the Vice
President for Strategic Communications. Duties would include working
with media team and conservation staff to coordinate national and
regional media campaigns publicizing river conservation, pitching
reporters, TV producers, and newspaper editorial writers on stories
involving rivers, writing and editing press materials, a quarterly
newsletter, the annual Most Endangered Rivers report, and promotional
materials, handling logistics of press events, and esponding to media
requests. Candidates should have 1-3 years experience in public
relations/communications/media field, strong writing, editing, and
research skills along with ability to juggle multiple projects in fast
paced environment, and an interest in conservation. Please send resume,
cover letter and writing sample to Director of Administration, attn:
press hire, American Rivers, 1025 Vermont Ave NW, suite 720. Washington,
DC 20005 or email: wsisson at amrivers_org. No Phone Calls Please.
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