The National Science Foundation thinks the Environmental Protection Agency needs "radical change" if it is to make U.S. streams safe for swimming and fishing.
Now, suburban sprawl and other development is causing so much stormwater runoff and sewage discharges that the nation's streams are becoming more polluted, 35 years after the passage of the Clean Water Act, not less.
Though the Clean Water Act successfully stopped direct pollution from industrial and sewage pipes -- yielding dramatic improvements to water quality -- some of the nation's most pristine smaller streams have been suffering for years as farms and forests are carved up into housing developments.
The increased pavement, and the loss of vegetation, leads to erosion that carves out streams, leaving them hot, shallow and able to support fewer fish species. Rain rushes quickly off of pavement, flooding streams rather than soaking slowly into the ground and feeding them via groundwater flow.
The NSF suggests a radical overhaul of permitting, so that permits for activities that affect streams are considered not based on state, county or town lines, but based on watersheds. Further, the NSF suggests focusing less on the chemical constituents in stormwater, but the overall volume -- since it is the sudden flush of water during rainstorms that erodes stream banks. And more, the NSF recognizes that sprawl -- which consumes more land per person -- has to be reined in if the nation's streams are to be protected.
The EPA has been working with states to control so-called non-point source pollution for years, but the "EPA's current approach is not likely to produce an accurate picture of the extent of the problem, nor is it likely to control stormwater's contribution to impairing water quality," according to the study.
To do so, the EPA will need to spend more on enforcement and permitting, according to the NSF.
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