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From the Blogs: Water Quality Down the Drain?

I’m fortunate. I live on a beautiful Hopland ranch, where the grapes are grown organically and  the seasonal creeks run clean and clear.

I relish the surrounding environment, and every chance I get I applaud Saracina ranch owner John Fetzer for successfully pursuing official certification of his organic farming practices. Because of Fetzer and a band of other grape growers, Mendocino County is known nationally for its embrace of sustainable agricultural practices. Preserving water quality is just one of the many benefits of the movement.

Thanks to those efforts, it’s easy if you live in Mendocino County to assume the whole world is marching with us.

After all, we like our bubble.

So that may explain why I was so surprised to read in the morning newspaper that while we think we may be going “green,” Washington, D.C. is actually taking a huge step back from three decades of aggressively pursuing water quality protections.

The New York Times reported Monday that as many as half of the nation’s largest known polluters may escape prosecution in a retreat being blamed on sharp new restrictions imposed by federal court decisions.

At issue is whether regulators could continue to broadly define the nation’s Clean Water Act, and whether the term “navigable waters” means wetlands and seasonal creeks along with streams and rivers.

A special New York Times investigation concluded:

“Thousands of the nation’s largest water polluters are outside the Clean Water Act’s reach because the Supreme Court has left uncertain which waterways are protected by that law, according to interviews with regulators. As a result, some businesses are declaring that the law no longer applies to them. And pollution rates are rising. Companies that have spilled oil, carcinogens and dangerous bacteria into lakes, rivers and other waters are not being prosecuted, according to Environmental Protection Agency regulators working on those cases, who estimate that more than 1,500 major pollution investigations have been discontinued or shelved in the last four years."

It’s a contentious debate not without reason on both sides.

On the North Coast, we’ve witnessed the results of broad interpretations of the Clean Water Act and how water-quality related issues figure prominently in disputes over logging practices, fish habitat restoration, dams and stream flows.

The New York Times report elaborated:

"In the last two years, some members of Congress have tried to limit the impact of the court decisions by introducing legislation known as the “Clean Water Restoration Act.”

But a broad coalition of industries has often successfully lobbied to prevent the full Congress from voting on such proposals by telling farmers and small-business owners that the new legislation would permit the government to regulate rain puddles and small ponds and layer new regulations on how they dispose of waste.

“The game plan is to emphasize the scary possibilities,” said one member of the Waters Advocacy Coalition, which has fought the legislation and is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Home Builders and other groups representing industries affected by the Clean Water Act.

“If you can get Glenn Beck to say that government storm troopers are going to invade your property, farmers in the Midwest will light up their congressmen’s switchboards,” said the coalition member."

Walking along the seasonal creek where I live in Hopland, I realized I’m unclear  how big the issue is locally and what the ramifications are for those of us who thought clean water protections were firmly in place.

But then I came across a blog posted by Chad Love, a columnist for venerable Field & Stream magazine. As a boy I read Field & Stream while waiting for my dad to get a haircut and shave at the local barbershop.

Columnist Love made my day.  He groused, “So we're now taking getting environmental advice from Glenn Beck? Is that going to be the legacy of the Clean Water Act? In the space of 38 years to go from the passage of a landmark piece of environmental legislation that has worked brilliantly to allowing it to be gutted because some television pundit has convinced some of us that everything about the federal government is bad? "

Love concluded:

“If something as basic as the idea of clean water can be subjugated, warped and twisted into frothing political screed, what does that say about the future?”

Thank you, Chad Love. I couldn’t have come up with a better way to ask the obvious.

One Comment

  1. Michael Laybourn March 5, 2010

    Then the question for us locals is how can we store water for frost protection, farmers and other uses. Hard to call it a drought right now, but the State has threatened any diversion from the Russian River, which may include creeks that dry up every year. My thought was rain water harvesting and I still think it should be done on all buildings to use less of the groundwater.
    And then there is the Friends of the Eel River, who want to shut down the PG&E diversion in Potter Valley, taking away power and grass fed beef.
    I say Mendocino County should buy the power plant and do our own power authority, recirculating a lot of money in the county to rebuild our economy.

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