Swimming in Slime Underscores Need for Smart Clean Water Protections

Green slime covering up your local swimming hole? 

Seems that Senator Inhofe (R-OK) found his own Grand Lake covered in algae. After swimming in the muck, the Senator became really sick.

Blue-green algae are known to cause respiratory illness, skin irritation and diarrhea and tend to flourish in times of drought when water is warm and polluted with excess nutrients. As droughts become more frequent and intense, we’re likely to see more of these algal blooms that plague our favorite swimming spots, threaten health, harm fish and wildlife and increase drinking water treatment costs for our communities.

So, it makes sense to better protect clean water by reducing nutrients getting into our streams. However, Senator Inhofe doesn’t agree. Under his leadership, the Minority Staff on the Senate Environment and public Works Committee released a report, Clouded Waters, that attacks the need for stronger clean water protections in variety of areas including reducing nutrient pollution, protecting the Chesapeake Bay and more effectively reducing polluted stormwater runoff.

On this last point, we strongly support EPA’s work to update outdated approaches to reducing polluted stormwater runoff that causes pollution, flooding and sewer overflows by using more effective and innovative approaches – just the approach that EPA is taking. The Clouded Waters report gets it wrong, and leaves out import information about the multiple benefits of reducing this growing source of pollution. For example:

Around the country local and state stormwater agencies and managers have recognized an increased imperative to prevent stormwater pollution and have embraced “green infrastructure” as a better approach to doing so. In all of the examples cited by the Clouded Waters Report, local leaders have adopted green infrastructure programs because they provide less expensive solutions to real water quality and flooding problems:

  • Philadelphia’s $1.5 billion commitment to a green infrastructure solution to its stormwater and sewage overflow problems will allow the city to avoid spending $ 7 billion on concrete tunnels while delivering $2.85 billion in additional benefits.
  • Seattle’s “Natural Drainage System” investment actually saves money.  This stormwater management system will save $140,000 to $240,000 per city block compared to the cost of “conventional” management measures. Not only is green infrastructure cheaper for Seattle’s tax and rate payers, it delivers many community and water quality benefits.
  • Milwaukee, pressed by the need to reduce flooding impacts throughout the city, has chosen to invest $47.7 million in its “Greenseams” program, making voluntary purchases of land and conservation easements in low-lying areas. These investments help rebuild floodplains, reducing flood impacts on the City’s neighborhoods and infrastructure  and have been enthusiastically supported by many of Milwaukee’s civic leaders, utility customers, government officials, landowners and conservationists.

Given that waterborne illness is associated with storms, reducing polluted stormwater runoff is good for swimming too – think twice before you take a dip in the green muck.