Albion Monitor /News

States Not Enforcing Clean Water Act

by Elaine Hopkins

on this topic
(AR) PEORIA -- The National Wildlife Federation says no state in the U.S. is properly enforcing the federal Clean Water Act.

The nation's largest member-supported conservation group, the federation recently ranked the states in enforcement effort. None received a "good" rating.

Nineteen were listed as failing, 17 were rated "poor" and 17 more were termed "weak" in enforcement efforts.

"Not one of the 50 states has done what the law requires to prevent nonpoint pollution or to safeguard the waters or the people, communities and wildlife that depend on them," stated federation president Mark Van Putten.

Most state governments won't stand up to agricultural interests
The presence of pollutants in waters throughout the U.S. has been documented by federal agencies. Recent studies indicate "concentrations of nitrate and agricultural chemicals exceeded US EPA maximum contaminant levels for drinking water in surface and ground water. Public supply wells throughout Illinois have shown the presence of concentrations of nitrate, pesticides and volatile organic compounds above drinking water minimum standards, the agency stated.

Federation attorney Cameron Davis said Illinois has failed to enforce controls on runoff from agricultural sources. "If you've got atrazine and nitrates (in state waters) that's a sure sign Illinois needs to be doing better," he said.

"Most midwestern states have the same problem," he said, adding state governments won't stand up to agricultural interests.

Federal law requires the states to inventory waters at risk, determine pollutants, then devise and implement plans to control pollution throughout watersheds.

Failure to take such measures sets the stage for outbreaks such as Cryptosporidium that killed 100 people in Milwaukee, and Pfisteria that has sickened fish and people on the east coast of the U.S., the federation stated.

The chief of the bureau of water of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Jim Park, denied that Illinois is not enforcing federal law. The IEPA enforces the federal statutes for the US EPA in Illinois.

A list of waters and a schedule for determining pollutants have been submitted to the U.S. EPA, he said. "We're dealing with those issues, we're developing programs," he said.

The state is working on voluntary compliance and education "to bring the farm community into the process," he said.

There are too many farms to regulate individually, he said. "You can't just wave a wand, and no more atrazine."

Platt called for regulation, saying the voluntary approach isn't keeping soil and chemicals from washing into the river
But Mike Platt, executive director of the Heartland Water Resources Council, a Peoria-based advocacy group funded primarily by business interests interested in the river's recreational possibilities, questioned whether this voluntary approach is working. Platt called for regulation, saying the voluntary approach isn't keeping soil and chemicals from washing into the river.

The wildlife federation called for citizens to demand enforcement of watershed protection in the Clean Water Act as well as stronger federal laws, including federal standards to stop pollution from mega-livestock farms.

Several of these farms are moving into the Illinois River watershed, lured by what their critics see as lax regulation of agricultural activities. Grassroots groups opposing these farms have lobbied vigorously for tougher state rules, but so far with no results from the legislature. State law restricts local governments from regulating agriculture.

The federation's attorney Davis said both Illinois and the U.S. EPA are "vulnerable to lawsuits brought under the citizens lawsuit provision of the Clean Water Act."

In addition, "there's no way a major livestock facility ought to be permitted next to a waterway or over a major aquifer," but prohibiting such sitings are not part of the federal act, he said.

Elaine Hopkins covers environmental and medical issues for the Journal Star in Peoria, Ill.

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Albion Monitor November 3, 1997 (

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