I have found that when I take a vacation – or in this case, a kind of working vacation – I end up needing another vacation just to recuperate. I just returned a little over a week ago from my second year of lobbying on behalf of environmental issues – more specifically on behalf of rivers. This year was easier for me since I had a little experience from last year. The group that hosted the volunteer citizen lobbying is American Rivers, a national organization standing up for healthy rivers so communities can thrive.
The organization was founded in 1973, just after the passage in 1972 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments (to be known later as the Clean Water Act). American Rivers has more than 65,000 members and supporters nationwide, with offices in Washington, DC and the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast, Midwest, Southeast, California and Northwest regions.
Our lobbying efforts focused on two issues this year. The first was the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, soon to be 40 years old in 2008. Our goal is to expand the number of rivers or portions of rivers protected by the Act – 40 x 40 for its 40th anniversary. To be included as a protected river, the nominated river must be free-flowing and must fall under a designation intended to be protected by the Act. The Act lists three types of rivers and areas to be protected: wild, scenic, and recreational.
A wild river area or stretch of river is one that is free of impoundments and is generally inaccessible except by trail. Its watershed or shorelines are essentially primitive and and its waters are unpolluted. A wild river represents vestiges of primitive America.
A scenic river area or stretch of river is free from impoundments with shorelines or a watershed that is still largely primitive with shorelines largely undeveloped. The area may be accessible in places by roads.
A recreational river area or stretch of river is readily accessible by roads or railroads. It may have some development along its shorelines and may have undergone some impoundment or diversion in the past.
Rivers or stretches of rivers may be nominated for the list in one of two ways. The traditional way is for Congress to pass Wild and Scenic legislation and then then send the legislation to the president for his signature. The less traditional way is for the governor of a state to petition the Secretary of the Interior to add a river to the system.
The rivers of northern Indiana tend to be meandering rivers and are usually a muddy or brownish color. While many of the rivers protected by the Act may be of the tumultuous variety with rapids and deep gorges, there is no reason why a river from northern Indiana – or any part of Indiana – cannot be nominated for such an honor. A river need not be a dashing, dancing torrent of water to be appreciated.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and, while some may view our area rivers as unattractive and uninspiring, I see the beauty that exists in the simple winding of our rivers and the calmness of their meandering courses.
The second issue we discussed in our meetings focused on the public’s right to know when a sewage leak or overflow occurs, dumping raw sewage into our nation’s rivers. The Act is known as the Raw Sewage Overflow Community Right to Know Act and requires publicly owned treatment works to monitor their systems for sewer overflows and then to alert the public as soon as possible as to all overflows with the potential to affect public health.
Removal and treatment of sewage is accomplished in one of two ways. The first method is a combined system where the underground pipes are designed to transport both stormwater runoff and sewage in the same pipe. Besides the projected sewage flow, the size and characteristics of the watershed are the overriding design considerations for combined sewers.
Often, combined sewers can not handle the volume of stormwater runoff, resulting in combined sewer overflows. The second way of handling sewage is to have a separate sanitary sewer system. These are designed to transport sewage in one pipe and stormwater runoff in a second pipe constructed specifically for stormwater runoff. Most sewer systems constructed today are separate sewer systems.
Combined sewer system are remnants of the country’s early infrastructure and so are typically found in older communities. Combined sewer systems serve roughly 772 communities containing about 40 million people. Most communities with combined sewer systems (and therefore with CSOs) are located in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions, and the Pacific Northwest (see map below).
Most citizens do not realize that sewage overflows are a common occurrence throughout the country. About 860 billion gallons of untreated sewage flow into our waterways every year due to crumbling infrastructure, rapid development, and failure to invest in wastewater infrastructure.
The notification requirement can be done fairly easily once a leak or overflow is detected. The notice can be done via a newspaper notice, a radio announcement, a public service channel announcement, or a combination of methods. If individuals still want to risk contact with contaminated water, then they have at lease been forewarned of the danger.
I enjoyed my trip again this year, and I am definitely already looking forward to next year’s journey. It is wearing on me, but it is a terrific experience.