From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published March 26, 2013 12:32 PM

Majority of US Streams and Rivers are in 'Poor Condition,' says EPA Survey

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has just released the results of a comprehensive survey that looks at the health of thousands of stream and river miles across the country, and frankly the results are not very encouraging.

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The survey was conducted as part of an ongoing effort by the EPA to determine which rivers and streams are healthy, which are improving, and which require more protection and restoration efforts.

During the summers of 2008 and 2009, data was collected from 1,924 river and stream sites across the country. EPA, state and university scientists analyzed the data to determine the extent to which these waters support aquatic life. Factors including biological quality, chemical stressors, physical habitat stressors, human health indicators, and change in stream conditions were all analyzed.

As a result of this survey, the EPA found that more than half — 55 percent — are in poor condition for aquatic life.

"The health of our Nation's rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, and this new science shows that America's streams and rivers are under significant pressure," said Office of Water Acting Assistant Administrator Nancy Stoner. "We must continue to invest in protecting and restoring our nation's streams and rivers as they are vital sources of our drinking water, provide many recreational opportunities, and play a critical role in the economy."

Findings of the assessment include:

Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels.

Twenty-seven percent of the nation's rivers and streams have excessive levels of nitrogen, and 40 percent have high levels of phosphorus. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality, food resources and habitats, and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. 

Streams and rivers are at an increased risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human disturbance.

These conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion, and pollution. 

Increased bacteria levels.

High bacterial levels were found in nine percent of stream and river miles making those waters potentially unsafe for swimming and other recreation.

Increased mercury levels.

More than 13,000 miles of rivers have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption.

Read the National Rivers and Streams Assessment Collaborative Survey at US EPA.

See the  press release at US EPA Newsroom.

Water pollution image via Shutterstock.

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