Columbia Cleanupby Editors
The Columbian, January 19, 2007
With its status as 'Great Body of Water' comes great attention on its pollution
In "Washington's History," author Harry Ritter describes the steamboat era of the 19th century and writes: "Before railroads, water was the best highway and Washington boasted two great waterways -- the Columbia-Snake River system and Puget Sound."
A century and a half later, those same two waterways share a distinction of being among just seven entries on the Nation's Great Water Bodies list from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Everglades and Long Island Sound.
It's great that they are Great Water Bodies, but they also are in need of the EPA's attention for water quality restoration and protection.
The agency last September ratcheted up the level of urgency for the cleanup of the Columbia and notified Congress of its plans. For that, we can be encouraged and grateful.
Wednesday, as reported by The Columbian's Erik Robinson on Thursday, the Northwest Power and Conservation Council met in Vancouver and was briefed on the Columbia River's problems and the plans to work on those problems over the next several years.
The council usually makes news in connection with hydroelectric dams and efforts to restore salmon runs, but not this time.
This time, the members heard about crayfish caught just upstream of Bonneville Dam that had so much toxic chemicals in their bodies, Robinson reported, "the creatures had to be hauled away for special disposal."
The concerns extend well beyond the health of crayfish, most notably to include radioactive waste seeping into the river at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland.
While the EPA report on the health of the Great River of the West is cause for hand-wringing, the EPA's plan of attack deserves cheers, encouragement and, yes, federal dollars, considering that the Columbia is a national treasure, draining parts of seven states and British Columbia.
According to a Northwest Power and Conservation Council memorandum, the EPA, states, tribes, local governments and others are developing a strategy to remove contaminated sediments, bring back native anadromous fish and restore water quality and habitat.
For example, the EPA plans to filter and break down chemical pollutants on thousands of acres of riverside wetland and upland habitat and clean contaminants from the landfill above Bonneville Dam. It even set benchmarks, including a 10 percent reduction in certain contaminants in water and fish tissue.
"We're going to show some accountability on moving toward toxics reduction," said Mary Lou Soscia, the EPA's Columbia River cleanup coordinator.
"We're saying this is important and we're going to do work to have some demonstrated success."
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