By Tom Damm
As we approach Earth Day on Tuesday, we’re reminded of the reasons we value our rivers and streams.
They serve as sources of drinking water, provide recreational fun, support fish and wildlife, and play a critical role in our economy.
And some offer a touch of history – like the Assunpink Creek in Trenton, New Jersey.
My neighborhood stream connects with the Assunpink before emptying in the Delaware River. The Delaware is a focus of cleanup efforts in two EPA regions and is influenced by hundreds of small streams and creeks in states on both sides of the river.
If you Google Assunpink Creek, you’ll find it has a connection to an important battle in the American Revolutionary War.
General Washington’s troops repelled three attempts by British soldiers to cross a bridge over the Assunpink in the Second Battle of Trenton – one of a series of events over 10 days that historians say changed the course of the war.
These days, Assunpink Creek itself is under siege.
I entered the battle site’s zip code in EPA’s How’s My Waterway? app this week to get a sense for the water quality in the Assunpink. The app is a relatively new way of learning the condition of your local stream, creek or river – whether you’re standing on the water’s edge with a mobile device or sitting at home with a computer. I found that the creek is impacted by arsenic, E coli, lead, phosphorus and low dissolved oxygen levels, among other ailments.
The Assunpink is not alone.
According to an EPA survey released last year, more than half of the nation’s rivers and stream miles are in poor condition for aquatic life.
The EPA report – the 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment – shows that our waterways are under big-time pressure: not enough vegetation along stream banks and too much nitrogen, phosphorus, bacteria and mercury.
The health of our rivers, lakes, bays and coastal waters depends on the vast network of streams where they begin, including stream miles that only flow seasonally or after rain. These streams feed downstream waters, trap floodwaters, recharge groundwater supplies, remove pollution and provide fish and wildlife habitat.
EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers have released a proposed rule to clarify protections under the Clean Water Act for these types of streams and wetlands. The rule will be open for a 90-day public comment period beginning Monday, April 21. You can find information on the rule and a link to comment at www2.epa.gov/uswaters.
We can all enlist in the effort to help reverse poor water quality conditions. Among other activities, you can control polluted runoff from your property, adopt your watershed and do volunteer water monitoring. For more information on what you can do, click here. Make it an Earth Day commitment.
About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as the region’s acting senior communications advisor.