Conservation groups have expressed great concern in recent weeks over the proposed "Oregon Rule," an exemption for federal dam operators that would allow them to circumvent mandates of the federal Clean Water Act. Proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Oregon Rule would have devastating consequences for river systems across the country, say opponents, and fish populations will suffer as a result. In short, the Oregon Rule would allow federal dam operators to petition for lower water quality standards in some rivers below dams owned and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — even if lower standards would prevent restoration of healthy fish populations. This proposal is especially alarming to some since the Corps' previous track record on environmental protection has been questioned. In fact, the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation designed to force closer environmental review for Corps projects. "Encouraging the Army Corps to violate the Clean Water Act is like encouraging a dog to chase a cat," said Paula Del Giudice of the National Wildlife Federation.
The U.S. Senate confirmed Mike Leavitt as new director of the EPA last month by an overwhelming margin of 88-8. The vote did not reflect the promise of some Democrats, however, to turn Leavitt's nomination into a referendum on President Bush's environmental policies. Shortly after the vote on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Leavitt announced that he would resign as the governor of Utah and begin his duties at the EPA.
Timber companies should be required to obtain federal water pollution permits before logging operations can begin, according to a federal judge in San Francisco. In that ruling, U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said the EPA has misconstrued the original intent of the 1972 Clean Water Act by exempting logging companies from going through the same permitting process as other "point source" polluters, which would include wastewater treatment plants or any other facility that discharges pollution into public waters. The ruling was prompted by a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Protection Information Center and several other California groups against the EPA and a logging operation run by Pacific Lumber in Humboldt County. They charged that the company was polluting water as it cleared land and allowed sediment and chemicals to run off into streams. Attorneys for Pacific Lumber say they plan to appeal the decision.
Here are some rather disturbing figures. According to the Plastics Pipe Institute (PPI), 2.45 billion gallons of treated drinking water are reported as lost or unbilled every day in America and most of it is lost to leaking pipes. Furthermore, roughly $23 billion is needed each year for the next 20 years to pay for upgrades necessary to ensure that pipes for the nation's drinking water supply are safe and efficient. The PPI also reported that up to 3.6 million illnesses in this country are caused by accidental releases of untreated sewage due to overburdened or failed wastewater treatment systems using outdated pipe materials. "It's 2003 and our water pipes need help," said a PPI spokesman. "Yesterday's materials are failing — sometimes in catastrophic proportions. If 2.45 billion gallons are being lost every day, multiplying that by 365 days, year after year, totals a number literally too large to swallow."
Biologists are currently looking into a new case of LMBV at Wes Watkins Lake in central Oklahoma. Reports of dead and dying bass were received by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation from members of the North Oklahoma City Bassmasters. Tournament Director Earnie Baxter reported that members had seen dead and distressed fish while prefishing for the club's September tournament on this 1,000-acre reservoir just east of Oklahoma City. Baxter reported the sightings to ODWC biologist and fellow club member Gene Gilliland, who informed agency administrators of the situation. Samples of bass were collected by electrofishing and sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Pinetop Fish Health Center in Arizona for analysis. Results verified the virus was present in the samples, making Wes Watkins Lake the first confirmed LMBV-related fish kill in Oklahoma since Lake Tenkiller in 2000. Extremely low water levels (8 feet below conservation pool elevation) and high summer water temperatures (13 days with air temperatures exceeding 100 degrees) at Wes Watkins may have contributed to increased stress levels that triggered this LMBV disease episode. "We're learning more and more about LMBV every day. However, there's still many unanswered questions," said Kim Erickson, Oklahoma's chief of fisheries. "We will continue to keep a close eye on this situation. Wes Watkins Lake will be sampled by electrofishing again next spring to determine the health of the bass population." Erickson added that biologists continue to monitor the status of LMBV throughout Oklahoma and encourages all bass anglers to immediately report sightings of dead or dying fish to fisheries personnel.