Triathletes for Clean Water

author : CLLinIA
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What you can do to clean up your local swimming hole and keep it clean!

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Have you ever pulled on your wetsuit, fired up for a great open water workout, only to hesitate when you got a good look at the water?  Whether we swim in lakes, slow-moving rivers, salt-water inlets or the wide open sea, triathletes often have a shuddering moment at the beginning of a swim when we wonder what exactly we're jumping into.  Sometimes we have good reason to shudder.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported in 2004 that one third of U.S. lakes and a quarter of the rivers are so polluted that people should limit or avoid eating fish caught there.  What kind of pollutants is EPA talking about?  Mercury, dioxins, pesticides and heavy metals like arsenic, copper and lead.  Many of these contaminants descend to the water after coal-burning power plants release them into the air.  Others come from mining, industrial agriculture, stormwater runoff and direct industrial discharges.

But what can we do?  In the last thirty years, the answer has been "plenty."  In 1972, Congress passed the first version of what would come to be known as the Clean Water Act.  Its most important function is to regulate pollutant discharges into all U.S. waters through a permit system.  Permitting has kept discharges under control and driven technological advances that make it easier and cheaper to keep our water clean.  The Clean Water Act proves that an organized federal effort can protect our water resources without creating an undue burden on the economy.  It's a popular law that has worked pretty well, as far as it goes. 

So what's wrong with this picture?  Unfortunately, many states still aren't in compliance with Clean Water Act regulations.  Many U.S. waters are unsafe for fishing or swimming.  And those power plants I mentioned earlier are part of a much bigger problem called "non-point source pollution," meaning we can't point to a few dirty pipes as the problem.  In my home state of Iowa, eighty percent of our water pollution comes in the form of runoff from industrial agriculture and livestock operations, air pollution that settles in the water, even storm wastewater that drains pollutants from every dirty street and gutter in the state.  Cleaning up these sources will require a broad public commitment to making all our waters fishable and swimmable.

That's where the triathletes of the world come in.  We put our faces in this stuff.  We have the right and the duty to be heard on clean water issues.  Get in touch with a local "Friends of the River" or "Friends of the Bay" sort of group.  Let them know you're committed to having clean water for you and, one day, your grandkids to swim in.  Or get in touch with me and let's do a little Triathletes for Clean Water organizing.  Let's put all that manic energy to an even better use!

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date: December 12, 2004

CLLinIA