An investigative report released last week by the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) shows that West Virginia residents have much to be concerned about when it comes to pollution in their local streams and rivers.
West Virginia misleads the public on the percentage of streams and rivers the state tests for pollution, claiming to test 58% of streams and rivers while IWLA’s calculation is 5%. West Virginia does not test enough local river and stream sites to make reliable claims about the safety of these waterways statewide. In fact, the state has only 107 permanent testing stations for more than 49,000 miles of streams and rivers. West Virginia also has weak water quality standards and relies on water quality data that is up to 5 years old – and reports it to U.S. EPA as if it were current.
Although West Virginia manages a volunteer water quality monitoring program called West Virginia Save Our Streams, the state does not use volunteer-collected data in its reports to U.S. EPA and it requires unnecessary and cost-prohibitive steps by volunteers before data can be submitted to the state. The most common pollutants found in West Virginia’s streams and rivers include bacteria, PCBs (a probable carcinogen), acids, toxic metals, and other carcinogens. For the full report on West Virginia’s water quality monitoring, visit www.iwla.org/righttoknow.
Residents of West Virginia aren’t the only ones who should be concerned. Lack of timely, local water quality information is a nationwide problem. IWLA conducted an extensive investigation into stream monitoring practices and water pollution problems in all 50 states, and more than half (26) of the states received D or F grades for the overall effectiveness of the state’s stream monitoring efforts.
Every American has the right to know if the streams or rivers they and their children play in are safe. But the IWLA report shows that water quality monitoring in streams across the country is haphazard and limited, leaving Americans in the dark about the health of local waters – and potentially leaving pollution undetected.
Here are more alarming facts uncovered by the IWLA investigation:
• On average, states are effectively testing and tracking water quality in just 2% of rivers and streams.
• Based on state reports to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA), more than half (55%) of the streams and rivers tested were not safe for designated uses such as swimming, fishing, and as sources of drinking water.
• Pollutants in these waters include a laundry list of bacteria, carcinogens, and nutrients.
• Testing sites are often randomly located and limited in number, and most information about water quality in streams is 5 to 10 years old.
“There is an alarming lack of timely information about water quality in this country, including in West Virginia,” said IWLA Executive Board Chair Jodi Arndt Labs. “Every morning, you can read about that day’s air quality in the local paper or on your smart phone. Yet information about the health of local streams is 5 to 10 years old. That’s a problem!”
The Clean Water Act of 1972 requires states to monitor the safety of all waterways, report water quality information publicly every two years, and address pollution problems. However, states vary widely in virtually every aspect of water quality monitoring, including standards used to assess water quality; where, when, and which waters are tested; the types of tests performed; and how states provide information to the public. The Izaak Walton League found that many states have weak water quality standards that can inflate the number of waters rated clean and healthy – and most states don’t monitor water quality often enough to make accurate statewide safety claims.
The Izaak Walton League has a solution to this problem: empowering citizens to collect scientifically valid water quality data and ensuring states use this data more effectively.
The League has been training and supporting citizen volunteers for decades through our groundbreaking Save Our Streams (SOS) program. Variations of the League’s SOS program have been adopted by states and volunteer groups across the country. It is vital to the health of our nation’s waterways – and Americans who depend on those waterways – to expand stream monitoring across the country.
However, rather than embrace volunteer help, many states – including West Virginia – hold citizen volunteers at arm’s length. Some states don’t use the water quality data citizens provide. Other states require volunteers to complete unnecessarily complex certifications or send water samples to labs for expensive tests before the state will consider their data. This erects barriers to citizen engagement and reduces the amount of timely water quality information available to the public. Twenty-nine states received D or F grades for volunteer engagement because they do not effectively partner with volunteer monitors or use the data volunteers collect.
“The solution to ensuring the public has accurate, timely, and local information about stream health isn’t a mystery,” said Scott Kovarovics, IWLA Executive Director. “Across the country today, League chapters and networks of citizen monitors are already doing great work. Nationwide, volunteers could regularly monitor water quality in thousands more streams and provide timely results to their neighbors and state governments. The League is committed to achieving this goal by getting more citizens involved in stream monitoring.”
The Izaak Walton League provides tools – including training videos, data forms, equipment lists, and a new biological monitoring mobile app – to help any volunteer get started with water quality monitoring. It’s all available at www.iwla.org/sos.
The Izaak Walton League of America was founded in 1922 to conserve America’s natural resources – including soil, air, woods, waters, and wildlife – for future generations. The League has been at the forefront of every major clean water battle in the United States, from a push for federal water pollution control in the 1930s to breaking the political ground necessary for passage of the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act to current efforts to restore Clean Water Act protections for streams and wetlands. Citizens across the country use the League’s pioneering Save Our Streams program to monitor local waterways, plan restoration projects, and report water quality problems. Today, League priorities include engaging youth in the outdoors; restoring and conserving habitat for fish and wildlife; and ensuring America’s streams, rivers, and other waters are clean and safe. With 43,000 members and 240 local chapters nationwide, the League is a powerful voice for community-based conservation. For more information visit www.iwla.org, call 301-548-0150, or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.