When Fish Become Canaries

Two disturbing reports in the past few weeks point to increasing problems with U.S. rivers and streams. This week the EPA released its first study of wadeable streams, showing that more than half of smaller streams are polluted. And just last month, the conservation group American Rivers released its annual list of the U.S.’s most endangered rivers. What do both reports have in common? They point to agricultural runoff as a primary culprit in reducing the health of our nation’s rivers.
The Caloosahatchee river in southwest Florida — deemed by skeptics as a virtual sewer for the sugar industry and an example of disastrous practices by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers –is highlighted in the American Rivers report: “Periodic discharges of huge volumes of toxic agricultural runoff from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee threaten human health, commercial and sport fishing, and wildlife that depend on the river.” Even seemingly non-toxic runoff in the form of fertilizer causes enormous problems in the form of eutrophication, which starves streams and rivers of oxygen.

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