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Entries in Clean Water Act (24)

Friday
Jan192018

Despite Carp, Sport Fish Thriving In Illinois River

In recent years, the Illinois River has gained notoriety for  huge numbers of Asian carp that have taken over portions of this waterway. Bigheads and silvers have crowded out native species, and the latter's tendency to jump when frightened has made boating dangerous.

But there's a bigger and better revelation about the river in general that's good news for both native species and anglers. Populations of largemouth bluegill, catfish and other sport fish are at the highest levels in more than a century.

That recovery is directly attributable to implementation of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) in the 1970s, according to a recent study.

“The biggest single negative change that happened to the Illinois River in the 20th century was the opening of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in 1900,” said Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) researcher and fish biologist Daniel Gibson-Reinemer, the lead author of the study.

“After that, a lot of the untreated sewage from Chicago started flowing right down the canal and into the Des Plaines River, which is the headwaters of the Illinois River.”

Before that, the Illinois had been a remarkable resource, providing 25 percent of the total value and 15 percent of the total catch of all commercial fisheries in all rivers of the Mississippi Valley, even though it accounted for just 2.6 percent of the total length of the rivers.

But all those sewage-related nutrients spawned an overgrowth of microbes that depleted the river's oxygen, suffocating fish and other aquatic life, according to INHS aquatic ecologist Richard Sparks, a co-author of the study. A "dead zone" spread slowly from north to south, as hydrogen sulfide gas bubbled up from the bottom, bringing with it sewage fungus and other decaying matter.

INHS scientists have been studying the Illinois River since before the canal was built and, in 1957, they began to establish monitoring stations. Sparks joined the team in 1972.

“Back then, the only fish we were picking up were carp and goldfish, and it was awful seeing these fish,” he said. “They had tumors; they had eroded fins. They had various diseases, including what was called ‘pop-eye disease,’ where the eyes enlarged and just fell out of their eye sockets."

The CWA also was passed in 1972, and the slow recovery began. Since then more than $3 billion has been spent on reservoirs and tunnels in and under Chicago to capture the city's sewage and stormwater runoff. By the late 1980s, researchers saw sport fish coming back dramatically.

 “In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, very close to Chicago, about 97 percent of the fish that we caught were common carp or goldfish. Those are invasive species, they’re not native, and they’re really pollution tolerant,” Gibson-Reinemer said.

Today, those same species make up less than 3 percent of the researchers’ catch.

“If we lump all the sport fish together, we are now catching between 100 and 300 fish per hour now in those same areas, where in the 1950s and 60s, we were basically catching none,” he said.

Sparks added, “What we found in this new study would be no surprise to any biologist: If you clean up the environment, your fish and game populations will be better off.

"What is unique about this study is that, thanks to decades of research, we can document this in a scientifically robust way.”

Scientists from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Illinois Department of Natural Resources also participated in this study, which received financial support from the federal Sport Fish Restoration program.

Wednesday
Mar082017

Pollution Is Not Good, But Neither was Obama Clean Water Rule

Capt. Steve Chaconas with Potomac River bass

President Trump recently signed an Executive Order to roll back Obama's  2015 "clean water rule," which greatly expanded federal authority over public and private waters. Below is my 2014 analysis of the proposal, before it was enacted by executive fiat.

 *     *     *     *

We all live downstream.

Thus, pollution poses an exponential threat to our waters and our fisheries. And in a perfect world, no one would pollute.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

As a consequence, we pollute, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes flagrantly. Along the Potomac River, signs once warned that just touching the water could be hazardous to human health. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught fire. And Lake Erie was known as a “dead sea.” The list of waters degraded and almost destroyed by pollution is a long and shameful one.

We, however, also have learned to clean up after ourselves, prompted by the federal Clean Water Act of1972. Erie now is one of the nation’s most productive fisheries. The Potomac is nationally known for its bass fishing. And the Cuyahoga, a river once devoid of fish, now is home to 44 species. The list of waters enhanced and restored is a long and hopeful one, and we arguably do more to protect our aquatic resources than any other country in the world.

That doesn’t mean that we’ve done as much as we can or should do to minimize pollution. But neither are we living in a time when rivers are catching on fire and as much needs to be done or even can be done, for that matter.

But that doesn’t keep some from trying, especially those who believe that more big government is the solution to our imperfections. That’s why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to expand the definition of ‘waters of the United States’ to include water on private property.

Additionally, under new proposals, jurisdiction would extend to streams regardless of their size or how frequently they flow, as well as to ditches, gullies, and just about any low spot where moisture collects on a seasonal basis.

And that’s why the move is being heartily endorsed by environmental groups, who argue that court rulings have weakened the CWA.

“It’s taking the way the Clean Water Act works back, so that it works the way water works in the real world,” said Bob Wendelgass of Clean Water Action.

But just how far do you allow the federal government to intrude on the rights of private property owners? Those rights are a cornerstone of who we are as a nation and why so many from all over the world want to live here.

“The EPA’s draft water rule is a massive power grab of private property across the U.S,” said U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith from Texas. “This could be the largest expansion of EPA regulatory authority ever.

“If the draft rule is approved, it would allow the EPA to regulate virtually every body of water in the United States, including private and public lakes, ponds, and streams.”

While I understand and even sympathize with the environmental side of this argument, I do not support such an expansion of power using regulations written by anonymous, unelected bureaucrats. Such decisions should be left up to Congress, which represents the people.

Additionally, many who want to impose ever more strict environmental regulations upon industries, agriculture, municipalities, and now private property owners do so with unrealistic expectations. In their never-ending quest for perfection, they want to reduce pollution limits to levels that can’t even be measured.

“These folks live in la-la land,” one water quality expert told me. “If you attack these things (regulations) as unrealistic, you are evil.

“What I’d really like to see is for them to sustain themselves on their own little happy ¼-acre subdivision lot. I’d be willing to bet every single one of them has a nice, cozy temperature-controlled house, pantry full of food, a sink with a spigot full of safe drinking water and a shower and toilet that take away all that nasty that they just can’t think about, much less live with, while they point fingers at everyone else.”

So . . . would I like to see an end to all pollution?  Absolutely. After all, we all live downstream.

But I believe that’s an unrealistic expectation, considering our prevalence and dominance as a species on this planet. Let’s keep trying to reduce our pollution footprint, but let’s do so with consent of the governed and with realistic standards, not those imposed by anonymous bureaucrats who live in “la-la land.”

Wednesday
Sep212016

More Intersex Bass Found--- This Time in Illinois

The more waters that scientists investigate, the more intersex bass they find. Latest discovery is in the Des Plaines River, about 125 miles downstream from here.

In dissecting 51 male largemouth bass, researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) found that 21 had grown oocytes, or female eggs, in their testicular tissue.

“Long-term surveys conducted by the INHS in this region have shown big increases in largemouth bass over the past 40 years since the implementation of the Clean Water Act,” said fisheries biologist Mark Fritts. “It's a dichotomy here because we're seeing a population that has increased dramatically, but we're also seeing this potential problem rising.”

But this part of the river is far from pollution free. Treated sewage from Chicago flows into this area from the Chicago sanitary and Ship Canal. In a 2016 water quality report, the Illinois Protection Agency found 12 out of the 14 segments of the river tested were impaired by contaminants such a fecal bacteria and toxic industrial chemicals.

Pollution seems to be the common thread in other discoveries of intersex bass, both from municipal sewage and agricultural runoff. Specifics are elusive, except for the belief that chemicals acting as "endocrine disruptors" are causing the mutations.  They distort functions that regulate hormones and the reproductive system.

"This is an emerging field of research. We're kind of on the tip of the iceberg," Fritts said. "There are still a lot more questions than answers."

Starting in 2003, scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) found male smallmouth and largemouth bass with immature eggs in several areas of the Potomac River. Then they noted intersex smallmouth and white suckers at 16 sites in the Delaware, Ohio, and Susquehanna Rivers in Pennsylvania.  At one site near Hershey, Pa., 100 percent of male bass sampled had eggs.

Of these findings, USGS scientist Vicki Blazer said, "We keep seeing a correlation with the percent of agriculture in the watershed where we conduct a study."

Additionally, studies conducted from 1995 to 2004, revealed  intersex bass in the Apalachicola, Savannah, and Pee Dee River basins of the Southeast.

Just last year, meanwhile, two federal agencies found significant numbers of male bass were intersex in waters of or near National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast. Eighty-five percent of male smallmouths and 27 percent of male largemouths tested positive, according to USGS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

Saturday
Apr162016

Troubled Waters Need More Volunteer Monitoring

Based on an analysis, the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) says that states are effectively monitoring water quality in just 2 percent of  rivers and streams nationwide.  Even more troubling, it adds, 55 percent of those tested are not deemed safe for designated uses such as swimming, fishing, and drinking water sources, according to state reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“There is an alarming lack of timely information about water quality in this country,” said IWLA Executive Board Chair Jodi Arndt Labs. “Every morning, you can read about that day’s air quality in the local paper or on your smart phone. Yet information about the health of local streams is 5 to 10 years old. That’s a problem.”

IWLA also reports the following:

  • Pollutants in these waters include a laundry list of bacteria, carcinogens, and nutrients.
  • Testing sites are often randomly located and limited in number, and most information about water quality in streams is 5 to 10 years old.
  • More than half of all states (26) received D or F grades for the overall effectiveness of the state’s stream monitoring efforts.

For the full report, go here.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 requires states to monitor the safety of all waterways, report water quality information publicly every two years, and address pollution problems. However, states vary widely in virtually every aspect of water quality monitoring, including standards used to assess water quality; where, when, and which waters are tested; the types of tests performed; and how states provide information to the public.

IWLA found that many states have weak water quality standards that can inflate the number of waters rated clean and healthy and most states don’t monitor water quality often enough to make accurate statewide safety claims.

“The solution to ensuring the public has accurate, timely, and local information about stream health isn’t a mystery,” said Scott Kovarovics, IWLA executive director. “Across the country today, League chapters and networks of citizen monitors are already doing great work. Volunteers could regularly monitor water quality in thousands more streams and provide timely results to their neighbors and state governments. The League is committed to achieving this goal by getting more citizens involved in stream monitoring nationwide.”

IWLA provides free tools, including training videos, data forms, equipment lists, and a new biological monitoring mobile app, to help volunteers get started with water quality monitoring. They're available here.

Monday
Feb222016

EPA Violated Federal Law With Propaganda Campaign for Clean Water Act

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) engaged in "propaganda" and violated federal law by using social media to urge people and influence Congress to support rules to strengthen the federal Clean Water Act, according to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma said that he is not surprised, long suspecting "that EPA will go to extreme lengths and even violate the law to promote its activist environmental agenda."

EPA used Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and an innovative new tool, Thunderclap, to counter opposition to the rules that critics argued would be too broad and enable government overreach onto private properties.

Federal agencies are allowed to promote policies, but aren't allowed to engage in propaganda, which is defined as covert activity intended to influence the public. They also are not allow to use federal resources to conduct grassroots lobbying, which is defined as urging the public to contact Congress to take a certain kind of action on proposed legislation.

GAO concluded that EPA did both. "The critical element of covert propaganda is the agency's concealment from the target audience of its role in creating the material," the watchdog agency said in its 26-page ruling.

Environmental groups argue that new rules are needed because court decisions have weakened protections. Bob Wendelgass of Clean Water Action said the proposed rules are "taking the way the Clean Water Act works back, so that it works the way water works in the real world."

As proposed, they would extend to streams regardless of size or how frequently they flow, as well as to ditches, gullies, and almost any low spot where moisture collects on a seasonal basis.

Opponents insist that current provisions are strong enough to protect public waters and the new rules would infringe on private property rights.

"The EPA's draft water rule is a massive power grab of private property across the U.S.," said U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas. "This could be the largest expansion of EPA regulatory authority ever."

Implementation of the new rules already had been blocked by a federal court, after they were challenged by 18 states. Additionally, the Republican-led House of Representatives hopes to use Congress to stop them permanently.