Posted October 18, 2012 | comments 1 Comment

Reader Commentary: Clean water - It takes every generation to protect it

By Jeff Kelble

Am I the only person who enjoys looking at water?

Well, that's a trick question because I already know that the answer is no. You might be someone who cranes your neck when driving over a bridge just to see what the creek looks like underneath. Or someone who seeks water on your vacation. Or you would love to own (or do own) riverfront property. Right here at home, the Shenandoah River is our first choice when we look for a place to spend a summer day or to take our families camping or boating.

Water soothes us. And it nourishes us, quite literally.

We are lucky to have abundant, beautiful freshwater rivers, lakes and streams. We often take for granted that our government will keep them that way. But that has not always been the case.

I had just celebrated my first birthday when the U.S. Federal Clean Water Act was passed by a bi-partisan congress, 40 years ago this week in 1972. At the time of passing, President Nixon, a conservative, wrote, "The pollution of our rivers, lakes, and streams degrades the quality of American life. Cleaning up the nation's waterways is a matter of urgent concern to me."

A couple years later DuPont revealed that prior to the Clean Water Act, its facilities had released dangerous levels of mercury into the river and that fish from the South River and the South Fork Shenandoah were dangerous to eat.

Many valley residents also know that Avtex in Front Royal handily destroyed the lower South Fork Shenandoah and rendered fish downstream completely inedible. Before the Clean Water Act and the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, corporations dominated the regulatory landscape and were permitted to freely destroy public waterways. The Clean Water Act has largely changed that and is responsible for bringing an end to much of the pollution in the Shenandoah River and countless other waterways across our country.

As we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act this week, I am sad to report that our own Congress has been busy attacking the Clean Water Act, even now on the eve of its anniversary. Most of these attacks originate in the U.S. House of Representatives. Luckily, a clean water majority in the U.S. Senate has so far served as a firewall, ensuring that "dirty water bills" don't move any further.

As your riverkeeper, I'm writing for several reasons as we near election time.

First, I want you to contact your congressional representative or senator to let them know you support clean water.

Second, we need to elect leaders - Democrats and Republicans - who believe in clean water and the network of laws that strive to keep our waters safe for drinking, swimming, and fishing.

I will be celebrating the anniversary of the Clean Water Act by voting. What better way to say "Happy Anniversary" than electing leaders who care about clean water and share our vision for a country that protects this resource for us and the next generation.

Jeff Kelble is the Shenandoah riverkeeper.

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