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Many U.S. Rivers In Poor Health

March 27, 2013

By James M. O'Neill

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More than half of the stream and river miles throughout the United States are in such poor health that they can`t properly sustain aquatic life, according to a sweeping two-year study released Tuesday by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

A key problem is excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, which can cause algae blooms, harming habitats and reducing oxygen supplies for fish and other aquatic life. Many rivers also lack significant vegetation, exacerbating erosion and flooding; others have fish with mercury levels that could harm humans if consumed.

Similar conditions have been documented in New Jersey, where many rivers, including the Hackensack, Passaic, Ramapo and Saddle, are laden with high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, and fishing advisories abound because of mercury.

"This should be a wake-up call," said Bill Sheehan, the Hackensack Riverkeeper. "Whenever I talk to people about needing to improve the health of the river, they don`t get it -- they think it looks fine. In the old days they`d see everything from coffee cups to animal carcasses floating in the river, but they don`t see that now and they grow complacent. They think things are OK, but they`re not OK."

The federal study involved 85 field crews that gathered samples from nearly 2,000 river and stream sites across the country in 2008 and 2009, from the mighty Mississippi to tiny mountain headwaters.

The samples indicated that 55 percent of stream and river miles were in poor condition, including 40 percent with high phosphorus levels. "This new science shows that America`s streams and rivers are under significant pressure," Nancy Stoner, the EPA`s acting assistant administrator for water, said in a statement.

Phosphorus and nitrogen often come from the effluent of sewage treatment plants. In addition, rainwater runoff carries the nutrients off of suburban lawns that have been treated with fertilizers.

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(c)2013 The Record, Hackensack, N.J.

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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Story image: This Jan. 7, 2013 file photo provided by The United States Coast Guard shows barge traffic on the Mississippi River at St. Louis. AP Photo/United States Coast Guard, Colby Buchanan, File

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