Killing waterways won't revive the economy

Toledo Blade Sunday, January 15, 2012

COMMENTARY

BY KRISTY MEYER

Some of our members of Congress evidently need a refresher course in clean water.

From the mid-1800s to the late 1960s, many rivers in the United States — including Ohio’s Cuyahoga River — caught fire because of uncontrolled dumping of pollution.

In the 1930s, algae blooms became a nuisance in the Great Lakes. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources concluded in 1953 that “long periods of pollution barriers to fish existed in the form of toxic material or deficient oxygen.” In the 1960s and 1970s, scientists declared Lake Erie biologically dead.

As a result, the U.S. and Canadian governments passed two historic pieces of legislation: the federal Clean Water Act and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Our lakes and rivers rebounded.

People flocked to Lake Erie and other waterways to fish, swim, and boat. Small businesses that depended on the lake’s fishery and water-based recreation flourished.

The number of coastal marine businesses along Lake Erie’s coast has more than doubled, from 207 in 1977 to 425 today. In 1975, there were 34 charter boat captains. Today, there are about 800 of these small-business owners.

The take-home message: Clean water yields good jobs and recreation. Yet many lawmakers now want to gut the Clean Water Act.

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They want to stop any federal agency from protecting our waterways from increased pollution. These politicians claim they are acting in the name of jobs and the economy. They apparently think that clean water strangles employment and recreation.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 90 percent of Ohioans get their drinking water from small or seasonal streams. Yet Congress is threatening to strip these streams of protections in place for 40 years under the Clean Water Act. If lawmakers abandon these streams, they become vulnerable to being filled and polluted.

Some of our leaders think that Americans must chose between the health of their families and the health of our economy. As a scientist, I know that life depends on clean air and water.

As a co-breadwinner, I know that my husband and children depend on a thriving economy. And as a mother, I am not willing to sacrifice the environment or my children’s health.

The Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act have helped Americans live healthier and longer lives. Yet Congress is placing our drinking water, our health, and our economy in its cross hairs.

Toxic Algae Bloom

Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys are enduring toxic algae blooms that rival those of the 1970s. This is no time for Congress to roll back protections for waterways that provide drinking water, food, and jobs to millions of Ohioans.

President Obama should swiftly restore Clean Water Act protections to our streams, rivers, and lakes. His administration has started to define which waterways are legally considered waters of the United States, and thus afforded these protections. But big-money polluters and their friends in Congress are trying to stand in the way.

Now is the time for Ohioans to raise our voices to protect our waters. Don’t wait until you can no longer fish or swim in your favorite fishing hole.

Tell Ohio’s U.S. senators and representatives to vote no on any attempts to attack the Clean Water Act. Do it now — before it’s too late.

Kristy Meyer is director of agricultural and clean water programs for the Ohio Environmental Council in Columbus.

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