EPA's Most Recent Rivers and Streams Assessment Concludes only 21% of the Nation's Rivers and Streams Are In "Good" Biological Condition

The U.S. EPA has issued for public comment a draft of its most recent National Rivers and Streams Assessment (NRSA). The Assessment involved sampling over 1,900 points along wadeable waterways in the contiguous 48 States during 2008 and 2009, and updates a similar study done in 2004. Comments must be emailed to nrsa-hq@epa.gov by 11:59 p.m. May 9, 2013.

Among the key findings: 55% of the nation's river and stream miles do not support healthy populations of aquatic life, with phosphorus and nitrogen pollution and poor habitat the most widespread problems. An additional 23% of river and stream miles are in only fair condition. Only 21% of stream miles are considered to be in good condition, which represents a mileage reduction of 7% when compared to data from the 2004 NRSA. The leading problems identified in the study involve nutrient pollution and habitat degradation. High levels of phosphorous were identified in 40% of the water miles studied and 27% have high levels of nitrogen. Among the problems these elements cause are algae blooms and related conditions that can result in depleted in-stream oxygen levels. Activities adjacent to river and stream banks have also adversely affected water conditions. This is primarily due to the reduction or removal of vegetative cover as development proceeds along waterways. The removal of vegetation eliminates or reduces a natural buffer that serves to inhibit the deposit of nutrients (phosphorous and nitrogen), and it contributes to erosion sending sediments into adjacent waters. Sedimentation smothers aquatic life and tends to make natural channels shallower. Over time, this causes floodplains to expand and increases the risk of and damage from flooding. There are also human health implications associated with conditions identified in the study. Among them, almost ten percent of the studied waterways contain enterococci bacteria at levels exceeding those considered protective of human health. Over 13,000 miles of the waterways studied contain mercury in fish tissue at levels that pose risks to human health. For more information on environmental law topics, please contact one of the Burr & Forman team members for assistance. We are happy to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

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