Southern N.E. Grades Out Average in Water Report

By ecoRI News staff

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that nationwide 31 percent of streams and rivers are monitored for water quality. However, a recently released report by the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA) claims states are testing and tracking water quality in just 2 percent of rivers and streams.

More importantly, according to the new report, many states seriously mislead the public about the percentage of waters that are actually tested.

Based on state reports to the EPA, the study found 55 percent of the streams and rivers states tested weren’t 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 5-10 years old, according to the report.

A total of 26 states, including Massachusetts, received D or F grades for the overall effectiveness of the their stream-monitoring efforts.

Massachusetts state reports claim 28 percent of streams are tested, but according to IWLA fact checking, only 4 percent of streams are tested. To adequately assess water quality, the state needs a significant increase in permanent monitoring stations, where data is collected each year at the same place, according to the report.

The Bay State has more than 12,000 miles of streams and rivers, but only 20 permanent stations to monitor for water pollution, according to the report. The EPA recommends a maximum of 25 miles per station.

Southern New England’s two other states fared much better. Connecticut received a C+ and Rhode Island a B.

Connecticut state reports claim 49 percent of streams are tested, but according to IWLA fact checking, only 8 percent of streams are tested. The state has more than 9,000 miles of streams and rivers, but only 30 permanent stations to monitor for water pollution, according to the report.

Rhode Island state reports claim 65 percent of streams are tested, but according to IWLA fact checking, only 47 percent of streams are tested. The state has more than 1,300 miles of streams and rivers, but only 25 permanent stations to monitor for water pollution, according to the report.

“The solution to ensuring the public has accurate, timely, and local information about stream health isn’t a mystery,” said Scott Kovarovics, IWLA’s executive director. “Across the country today, league chapters and networks of citizen monitors are already doing great work. Volunteers could regularly monitor water quality in thousands more streams and provide timely results to their neighbors and state governments.”

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, the recent report found that 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 Maryland-based 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.