Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Report: 1,600 state waterways too polluted to fish, swim
INDIANAPOLIS - Nearly 1,600 streams and lakes in Indiana are unsafe to fish or swim in because of pollution ranging from animal waste to chemicals, a state report concludes.
The report classifies 30 percent - or more than 9,500 miles - of the state's 31,844 miles of streams, and 93 of Indiana's 1,504 lakes, as too polluted for swimming, fishing or both due to pollutants such as bacteria, fertilizer, chemicals, mercury and sediment.
Although the state's list of polluted waterways has more than tripled since 2002, Indiana's waterways aren't necessarily getting dirtier, said Jody Arthur, a senior environmental manager at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. She said the state simply is doing a more thorough job of assessing waterways, as required by the federal Clean Water Act.
Yet the sheer size of the list underscores the need to reduce pollution that largely has gone unregulated, including runoff from developments and farms, and pollution in even small waterways such as drainage ditches, experts said.
"People might argue, 'Who cares about bugs and fish in a ditch?'" Arthur said. "Sometimes there is a failure to recognize that this is all an interconnected system. Pollution gets transported."
The report, which the state's Department of Natural Resources submitted last month to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, represents the most comprehensive attempt yet to assess the health of the state's waterways.
Since the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972, Indiana's waterways have improved markedly. Waste from livestock packing plants and industry is no longer dumped directly into the water, and most municipal and industrial wastewater, including sewage, is now treated before discharge.
However, bacteria from sewer overflows, livestock manure runoff and failing septic systems foul rivers, streams and lakes. Mercury and PCBs taint some waterways, prompting officials to advise against eating too many fish caught in the waters.
Other waters support no aquatic life because of large amounts of sediment and fertilizer.
The tainted waters put Indiana a long way from meeting the Clear Water Act's goals of making all waters fishable and swimmable, and eliminating pollution discharges.
But no law requires the state or federal government to reduce excess pollution unless it's coming from industry, and most of those sources already are controlled.
That means municipalities, developers, farmers and homeowners must take the lead and work together, said Lenore Tedesco, director of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
"It's going to take a huge shift in people's attitudes about our waterways," she said. "You can't use streams as a discharge point for everything and expect them not to be impaired."