Fishing & Boating News

Clean Water Act after three decades!

Babe Winkelman Fishing Column --- August

by: Babe Winkelman, Babe Winkelman Productions

(Wednesday, July 08,1998 - Brainerd, MN) In 1997 environmentalists gathered on the bank of the Cuyhoga River near Cleveland to celebrate the 25th birthday of the Clean Water Act. Three decades earlier it was the river-not candles on a birthday cake-that was burning.

In a much-ballyhooed 1969 incident, the Cuyahoga actually caught fire when sparks from a passing train ignited industrial chemical and debris floating on the surface.

"Fresh water" was an oxymoron in those days. The Potomac River was known as a stinking sewer. Lake Erie was called "the dead sea". Waste from a food processing plant killed 26 million fish in Florida's Lake Thonotosassa. The Monongahela River in Pennsylvania was so polluted it wouldn't freeze. Shad migrating up the Delaware River were stopped by a wall of pollution.

In 1972, overriding President Nixon's veto, Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, setting a goal of fishable and swimmable water by 1983. In the ensuing years, industrial pollution was dramatically reduced with obvious results.

While the cleanup of our water has been expensive, the benefits easily outweigh the cost. One need only look at Lake Eire, the most prolific fishery on the continent, to appreciate the impact of the Clean Water Act.

For those who find it necessary to attach a dollar value to every issue, the "bottom line" is impressive. According to the American Sportfishing Association (ASA), anglers in the seven Great Lakes states spent over $9 billion in 1996, generating over $18 billion in economic output. Nationally, according to ASA figures, anglers spent nearly $38 billion generating over $108 billion in economic output and a million jobs.

Yet despite the obvious benefits of clean water, re authorization of the Clean Water Act faced an uphill struggle in 1986. Congress approved re authorization only to have the bill vetoed by President Ronald Reagan after Congress had adjourned for the year. Thanks to a public outcry from environmentalists and conservationists, Congress overrode President Reagan's veto a year later.

But big industry, which contributes more to politician's campaign coffers than do sportsmen, stayed busy in the smoke-filled rooms of Washington and a bill dubbed the "Dirty Water Act" surfaced in the '90s.

While that bill failed, the battle rages on. Forty percent of the nation's water is still unsafe for swimming and fish consumption. In 1996, 3,685 closures and advisories were declared on coastal beaches and 2,193 fish consumption bans were declared. Massive fish kills have occurred in coastal bays and estuaries from Louisiana to Chesapeake Bay.

The major challenges to water quality today stem from unregulated (non-point) sources of pollution like agricultural and municipal runoff. President Bill Clinton advanced a Clean-Water Action Plan which was to be carried out by various federal agencies like the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Forest Service (USFS) and the Fish and Wildlife Service (USF&WS).

As yet, however, neither the House nor the Senate has approved funding for the Clinton plan. As the politicians are so fond of saying, maybe it's time we "send a message to Washington" about the importance of clean water.

Tune into Babe Winkelman's award-winning television show "Outdoor Secrets" on Superstation WGN at 1:00 a.m. Friday night, 9:00 a.m. Saturday morning and 2:30 a.m. Saturday night (all Central). For information regarding Babe Winkelman's new club, "Society of Outdoor Sportsmen," call toll free 1-800-333-0471 (Monday - Friday 8:00 am - 5 pm Central) or write to: S.O.S., PO Box 407, Brainerd, MN 56401.