As if the wind damage, flooding and even fires spawned by Hurricane Sandy were not enough, another impact is rearing its head in the aftermath of the storm – profound water pollution.
Combined sewage overflows from Sandy turned many Eastern Seaboard waters into fetid soup. But it gets worse—
- Superfund sites were inundated and released massive amounts of toxic material;
- Toxic fracking water may have been released from holding ponds into streams in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
As a result, we are awash in waters not healthy to even touch.
Compounding the problem is that many of these waters were in bad shape before the storm. A new EPA database paints a grim picture:
These dismal numbers are likely significant underestimates. Thus, 40 years after the enactment of the Clean Water Act, our rivers may look better and may be less likely to catch on fire but the true quality of our waters may be regressing. In short, the Clean Water Act’s promise that our waters be drinkable, swimmable and fishable remains largely unfulfilled.
- More than three-quarters of U.S. coastal waters are impaired, as are two-thirds of our bays and estuaries and more than half of near coastal ocean waters;
- More than two-thirds of our lakes, reservoirs and ponds are impaired as are virtually all of the Great Lakes shorelines and waters; and
- More than four-fifths of the nation’s wetlands are also impaired.
Distressingly, the EPA figures show clean water progress has slowed under Obama. In 2008, there were 339 previously impaired waters which were restored to their intended uses but only 109 water-bodies were restored in 2012. Similarly, in 2008 agencies addressed 420 causes of impairment but by 2012 that number had fallen to 255.
Environmental issues have been largely absent from this presidential campaign but environmental events, from the BP Gulf spill to Super-storm Sandy, show how key the environment is to our economic as well as our public health. Regardless of who wins the election next week, one unquestioned lesson from Sandy is that water quality is a vital component of American infrastructure and we disinvest in it at our peril.