Environment News Service (ENS)

America`s Rivers of Filth

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Source: Environment News Service (ENS)

WASHINGTON, DC, October 12, 2007 (ENS) - Billions of gallons of polluted wastewater spilled unchecked into America's waterways in 2005 as more than half the country's industrial and municipal wastewater facilities exceeded the limits of their Clean Water Act permits, according to a analysis of official figures released today by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

'Troubled Waters: An analysis of Clean Water Act compliance' follows a parallel report written by the group covering the period between July 2003 and December 2004. Back then, 62 percent of industrial and municipal facilities were in violation of their permits. During 2005, there was a slight improvement - 57 percent of all permitted facilities exceeded their permit discharge limits at least once.

'As the Clean Water Act turns 35, polluters continue to foul our rivers, lakes and streams,' said Christy Leavitt, clean water advocate with U.S. PIRG, the national lobby office for the State Public Interest Research Groups.

'With so many facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that nearly half of America's waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing,' she said. 'But we should be outraged.'

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 20,000 bodies of water throughout the country are too polluted to meet basic water quality standards. In 2006, 32 states and the District of Columbia had statewide fish consumption advisories in place because of toxic pollution, the report points out.

The goals of the 1972 Clean Water Act are to eliminate the discharge of pollutants into waterways and make all U.S. waterways swimmable and fishable. Over the last three and a half decades, this landmark environmental law has made significant improvements in water quality, said Leavitt, but the original goals have yet to be met.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, U.S. PIRG obtained data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, on facilities' compliance with the Clean Water Act between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2005. U.S. PIRG researchers found that the average facility exceeded its permit limit by 263 percent, discharging close to four times the legal limit of pollutants.

The 3,600 major facilities exceeding their permit limits reported more than 24,400 exceedances of their Clean Water Act permits in 2005. This means that many facilities exceeded their permits more than once and for more than one pollutant.

Nationally, 628 major facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits for at least half of the monthly reporting periods between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2005. Eighty-five facilities exceeded their Clean Water Act permits during every reporting period.

The 10 U.S. states with the most exceedances of Clean Water Act permit limits during 2005 period are Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, California, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida.

The 10 U.S. states with the highest average permit exceedance between January 1, 2005 and December 31, 2005 are New Mexico, Vermont, Arizona, West Virginia, Iowa, Mississippi, Illinois, Indiana, California, and Hawaii.

The 10 U.S. states with the highest percentages of major facilities exceeding their Clean Water Act permit limits at least once are Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Ohio, Connecticut, New York, North Dakota, California, and West Virginia.

At least 850 billion gallons of raw sewage are dumped into U.S. waterways every year, according to a 2004 EPA report to Congress.

Leavitt said that the findings are likely 'just the tip of the polluted iceberg,' since the data that U.S. PIRG analyzed includes only major facilities and does not include pollution discharged into waters by the thousands of minor facilities across the country.

Over the last six years, the Bush administration has proposed or enacted numerous policies that weaken the Clean Water Act, says U.S. PIRG.

These include two separate policies that eliminate Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands that feed and clean lakes, rivers and bays; and funding cuts to the EPA's budget, including cuts to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, CWSRF.

Through the CWSRF program, each state and Puerto Rico maintain revolving loan funds to provide independent and permanent sources of low-cost financing for water quality infrastructure projects. Funds to establish or capitalize the CWSRF programs are provided through federal government grants and state matching funds.

The Fund is supposed to be available for all types of projects - nonpoint source, watershed protection or restoration, and estuary management projects, as well as more traditional municipal wastewater treatment projects.

U.S. PIRG called on the administration to end its efforts to weaken federal clean water safeguards and for Congress to pass the Clean Water Restoration Act, legislation to ensure all U.S. waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act.

'Instead of holding polluters accountable, the Bush administration is allowing more - not less - pollution to enter our waterways,' said Leavitt. 'Now more than ever, Congress should step in to protect all of America's waters.'

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