Portland has gone aquatic this week, hosting water scientists, clean water advocates and the country’s top water pollution regulator.
All paid homage to the 40-year-old federal Clean Water Act, crediting it for rescuing some of the most toxic waterways in America.
The experts and advocates, who don’t always see eye to eye, did come to the same conclusion: the work of making water safe to drink and clean enough for recreation and economic production is far from finished.
“I sit in a lot of rooms where people try to say that caring about the environment — caring about the environment — is somehow outside the mainstream culture, and I think that is what we have to fight,” said Lisa Jackson, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“We have to stand up and say, ‘No, it is very much who we are as a people that we don’t allow people to just spoil our air, our water and our land.’ And not just for 90 percent of us or 10 percent of us, but all of us,” she said, kicking off River Rally 2012 Friday night. It concludes Monday.
Jackson encouraged the groups to keep pushing for a cleaner environment and for environmental justice.
“I know that means lawsuits and adversarial positions and confrontations, and I know what I’m asking for,” Jackson said. “…that is exactly the way the citizens of this country — in our great democracy — exercise our right to protect ourselves and our families and our health.”
In the days before the conference, some of Jackson’s EPA scientists and state and local water quality experts grappled with how to reach the goals and uphold the mandates of the Clean Water Act with limited budgets and human resources.
Talk at the National Monitoring Conference was highly technical. Participants discussed “nutrient reduction strategies,” “hydrologic and geochemical factors influencing stream vulnerability to legacy nutrients,” – science stuff like that during the weeklong conference, which concluded Friday.
The work of evaluating the country’s water quality is far from finished.
Jackson told the River Rally that 8 percent of Americans still do not have drinking water that meets federal standards.
“Where are those 8 percent?” she asked. “They’re on our Indian lands. They’re on our border to Mexico. They’re in rural parts of this country.”
Perhaps the person to best describe what happened in Portland this week was Gerald Lewis, councilman with the Yakama Tribal Nation, addressing the rally.
“I often think of us as a stream when it begins. It’s very small, it’s very humble in its beginnings. And as it goes down it joins others and it begins to grow. And as it goes, it joins others. And as you see it out here, like the Columbia, it grows very big. And along the way it gathers all these thoughts, all these powers through the wind, through the sun, through the rain. It gathers this power. And this is what gives us the strength to continue on within our walk of life today.”
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