Turkey Federation, and the National
Pork Producers Council), the Farm
Bureau pressured EPA into hatching a
new rule for manure disposal at factory
farms. Permits for dumping manure on
land, even where it runs into streams,
could be written by the farmer with no
public or governmental oversight or
review. And, provided he had written a
permit for himself, he could kill fish and
other aquatic organisms with impunity.
•The Farm Bureau coerced and cajoled
the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec)
into allocating for irrigation the best
part of the Klamath River, which drains
9,691-square-miles of high desert,
woods, and wetlands in southern
Oregon and northern California. This
provided farmers with so much excess
water they flooded highways and disrupted traffic. State fisheries biologists,
commercial fishermen, anglers, Klamath
Basin Indian tribes, and environmental
groups repeatedly warned BuRec that
fish need things like water, but Farm
Bureau lobbyists shouted them down.
So when Chinooks, cohos, and steelhead hit the low, warm, farm-polluted
river they turned belly up. The mortality estimate was 33,000 fish, mostly
Chinooks. It was the largest known die-off of adult salmon in history.
•Seeking to preserve the ability of irrigators to dry up streams like Idaho’s Big
Wood River, Lemhi, Little Lost, and
Pahsimeroi, the Farm Bureau led the
successful fight to pressure that state’s
enlightened Fish and Game Director,
Rod Sando, to resign; his top priority
was preserving and restoring instream
flows for trout and imperiled salmon.
Clean water doesn’t come easy anywhere. In
1972 Congress enacted legislation that was
going to make all waters of the United States
“fishable [safe for fish eating] and swimmable” by 1983, then end all industrial and
municipal pollution by 1985. It was called
the Clean Water Act.
But if we’ve learned what we have to invest
for clean water, we’ve also learned what we
get for returns. For example, Cleveland’s
once-flammable Cuyahoga River—which
caught fire most recently in 1969, inspiring
Randy Newman’s memorable song, “Burn
On”—now sustains prolific runs of steelhead.
And Lake Erie, declared “dead” in the
1960s, now provides arguably the continent’s best smallmouth bass and walleye
angling, as well as more commercial fishing
than the other Great Lakes combined. Most
of us have come to see clean water as an
investment we can’t afford not to make.
What are the chances that the Farm Bureau
and its fellow polluters will win their appeal?
Probably not great. But if they lose, there’s
every indication they’ll take the case to the
Supreme Court, where they’ll have a much
“To say we are outraged is a vast understatement,” says Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s
Will Baker. “We find it almost beyond belief
for any state outside of the Chesapeake Bay
watershed to try to sue to stop us from cleaning up our waters. We say . . . don’t tell us
how to restore clean water in our backyard.”
Don Boesch, President of the University of
Maryland Center for Environmental Science,
adds this: “I don’t think we’ll get another
chance if we fail.”
But even if EPA prevails in court, the fact
remains that nearly half the states in the union
have sided with nine of the worst polluters in
the union in defense of dirty water and business as usual. To all who love fish and wildlife
and the wild, beautiful places they abide, that
comes like a kick in the solar plexus.
Ted Williams contributes
a regular feature-length
conservation column to
Fly Rod & Reel where he
serves as Conservation Editor.
With investment, clean water is possible. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River, once so polluted it was flamable, now sustains prolific runs of steelhead.
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