Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Upstream Solution to River Pollution from Wells in California to Atlanta's Chattahoochee, Much US Water Is Polluted. One Group Has a Plan

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

An Upstream Solution to River Pollution from Wells in California to Atlanta's Chattahoochee, Much US Water Is Polluted. One Group Has a Plan

Article excerpt

The northern Rockies are known as a pristine fountainhead of the American West. From out of the jagged snow-cropped peaks flow the crystal clear headwaters of three venerable river systems - the Columbia, Missouri, and Colorado - that help slake the thirst of half the American population.

But even here, where hikers can ladle out a handful of liquid refreshment along the trail and streams produce tasty trout, civilization's expanding footprint has potential consequences for water that eventually reaches the tap.

Watersheds across the country are suffering from pollution problems ranging from PCBs and gasoline runoff in cities to agricultural effluent and siltation caused by logging in the countryside, according to a new report from the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land. Nearly 40 percent of the nation's rivers, lakes, and coastal waters are technically cleaner than in the late 1950s. But the US Environmental Protection Agency says they are still too polluted for safe fish consumption, swimming, and drinking water. Worse, many others are in a rapid state of decline. The Trust for Public Land has a solution: By protecting the headwaters of municipal drinking water supplies now, it says, billions of dollars can be saved by avoiding costly filtration systems, pollution-related illnesses, flood control, and ecological degradation. "Our intention is to bring questions about watershed management to the forefront of public discussion," says Trust president Martin Rosen. If implemented, the Trust's strategy would mean much tighter restrictions on how agriculture, real estate developers and industry are allowed to approach watersheds and aquifers. Such talk has not met with enthusiasm from traditional land users. "Groups like the Trust for Public Land never saw a regulation they didn't like or a piece of private property they didn't want to buy at taxpayer expense," says Chuck Cushman, executive director of the American Land Rights Association in Battle Ground, Wash. "I question whether the government has to own all the nice places or whether it isn't better to make partners out of local landowners, trusting them to protect sensitive areas on their own," says Mr. Cushman. So just how widespread is the problem? In California's San Gabriel Valley, a quarter of all public wells are contaminated. And the tainted Chattahoochee runs through metro Atlanta. Not all rivers are highly polluted. But many in populated areas are. America's reputation for producing the safest drinking water in the world is being challenged. One recent example is the 1993 outbreak of the water-born virus cyrptosporidium, which was blamed for injuring 430,000 people and killing 103 in Milwaukee. The organism is highly resistant to chlorine treatment, and its likely origin was traced to farms and feedlots upstream. …

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