Pollution in Toledo, Drought in California: A reflection on recent events
A drinking water ban in Ohio. A historic drought in California. And in Canada, a massive dam failure sending toxic mining waste into salmon-rich waters.
The past couple of weeks have provided stark reminders about our need for healthy rivers, and the consequences that occur for our health and economy when we don’t manage our water resources responsibly.
Looking at these events together, they sound an undeniable alarm that our rivers are in trouble and the time for action is now.
Last Saturday morning, residents of Toledo, Ohio, woke up to a drinking water ban when an algae bloom caused by excess nutrients from polluted runoff contaminated Lake Erie. You’ll recall a similar crisis six months ago in Charleston, West Virginia, when 300,000 residents were without drinking water for four days when a chemical spill in the Elk River contaminated water supplies.
Speaking of pollution, a dam at a British Columbia mine site failed on Augusts 4, sending 14.5 million cubic meters of toxic waste into the Fraser River’s pristine waters, home to abundant sockeye salmon runs. This is exactly why we’re fighting the Pebble Mine in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.
In California, this summer has been marked by historic drought, made worse by decades of outdated water management. Crops are shriveling, fish and wildlife are suffering and the #1 Most Endangered River in the country, the San Joaquin, is running dry.
Whether you care about safe drinking water for your family, healthy fish and wildlife, sustainable food, or beautiful places for recreation, it’s essential that we have healthy rivers. Water is life, and when we don’t protect and restore our rivers, we put our health, economy, and the well-being of our communities at risk. It’s a question not only of resilience but of national security.
The good news is, we know what we need to do to safeguard our rivers and clean water. We have the solutions for better managing our scarce water supplies. American Rivers is working across the country to protect healthy rivers, restore damaged rivers, and conserve clean water. From the streets of Toledo to the mountains of California, we are demonstrating how solutions including rain gardens and meadow restoration can improve communities’ clean water supplies. In the Colorado Basin we’re proving that water conservation and efficiency are the key to vibrant communities and healthy rivers. And in places like Washington and Montana, we’re working to protect pristine rivers for future generations.
While it’s hard not to get discouraged hearing the bad news over the past several weeks, I remain incredibly hopeful. On my desk sits a chunk of the Elwha Dam, from the Elwha River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. This dam blocked the river for nearly 100 years, decimating salmon runs and the Klallam Tribe’s cultural connection to the river. But thanks to the work of American Rivers, the tribe, and others, the dam is gone. The river runs free. The salmon are coming back. For me, this chunk of dam is now a symbol of hope and healing – a reminder that when we work together, we can have healthy rivers and all of benefits they provide.
There’s no single solution to the problems our rivers face. And while the work to safeguard our nation’s rivers and clean water involves many issues and decision makers, there is one action you can take right now to help. The Environmental Protection Agency is considering whether to restore Clean Water Act protections for small streams and wetlands. Without these protections, corporate developers can pollute these waters with impunity. Speak up and tell the EPA that you support efforts to better safeguard our clean water. This decision will impact millions of miles of streams and drinking water supplies, so it’s crucial we get it right.
Nobody wants more stories of pollution, drinking water bans, drought and dying crops. Here at American Rivers, we work to create the hopeful stories every day. Your voice and support are critical to keeping the positive momentum going. I hope you’ll join us.