The Clean Water Act was responsible for restoring such great New England rivers as the Connecticut and the Merrimack.
Where raw sewage and industrial acids flowed as recently as 25 years ago, Atlantic salmon and striped bass now swim. Even the Blackstone, battered by decades of abuse, now offers fine fishing for stocked trout and largemouth bass, thanks to federal law and community involvement.
Nonetheless, many other bodies of water remain severely polluted. “Today, 40 percent of the nation’s rivers, lakes and estuaries are not clean enough to meet basic uses such as fishing,” says Helen Sevier, president of the Bass Anglers Sportsman’s Society .
Sevier is a director of the American Sportfishing Association, a group of fishing-tackle manufacturers, state fish-and-wildlife agencies and others involved in the recreational-fishing industry.
The ASA has launched a three-year campaign to convince Congress to make the Clean Water Act powerful enough to make more American waters fishable again.
Despite the successes of the Clean Water Act, many waterways are still in trouble:
* About 36 percent of American rivers remain “impaired,” which means they are not clean enough for such basic uses as fishing. The amount of impaired rivers is the equivalent of 100 Mississippi Rivers, according to ASA figures.
* About 37 percent of surveyed lakes are impaired - about the equivalent of six Great Salt Lakes.
“The condition of our waters is somewhat like a patient who has been in critical condition for 25 years,” said ASA president Mike Hayden, former governor of Kansas. “We can remain on the sick bed indefinitely, seeing no visible improvement, or we can demand the right treatment that will allow us to become healthy and vital again.”
Though the sport-fishing association allocated as much as $100,000 of its own money to the campaign, it has established a non-profit organization to receive donations from manufacturers and conservation organizations.
Much of the money, Hayden said, will be spent on “water lawyers:” specialists who know how to draft legislation dealing with water-conservation issues. None of the money, he said, will go to finance political campaigns.
By organizing the ASA’s plan now, he said, it will pay dividends when Congress is ready to act.
Among the ASA’s goals for the Clean Water Act is to provide financial and technical help for community-based watershed conservation and restoration efforts, and to place more emphasis on urban waterways to make them healthier and more attractive while appropriately managing storm-water runoff.
The program also would reconnect rivers to their flood plains, allowing some farm lands to be inundated during years of high water, and to be farmed during nonflood periods.