Paddlers have to be mighty concerned about the quality of the water they paddle through these days.

After improving from the 1970s to the late 1990s, America’s water quality peaked in 1998 and is on a steep decline. According to the environmental Protection Agency’s national inventory, rivers and streams with “good” water quality fell from 65 percent in 1998 to 61 percent in 2000. Over the same two-year period, estuaries rated “good” fell from 56 percent to 49 percent.

What’s going on? And is the federal government doing anything to help?

The EPA answered the first question this way, in a report last year: “Wastewater treatment efficiencies may be leveling off, which, when combined with population and economic growth, could have the effect of reversing hard-won water quality gains. By 2016, pollution levels could be similar to levels observed in the mid-1970s.”

The answer to the second question is no. The current federal administration is going backward, not forward, on both the funding needed to keep our water clean, and the basic laws that protect it.

The clean water budget has been reduced more than any other EPA program, including $500 million cut for sewage treatment. As a result, more sewage is being mixed into our rivers.

This contributes to 7.1 million cases of mild to moderate waterborne disease and 560,000 more severe cases each year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Yet rather than address this, the Bush administration wants to widen a Clean Water Act loophole that allows blending raw sewage with treated sewage before it’s released, so that sewage utilities can do this during any wet weather. Meanwhile, the act’s protections would be stripped entirely from most smaller streams and wetlands, leaving them at the mercy of land developers, agribusiness, and mining companies.

To address this sorry state of affairs, American Rivers is mobilizing a nationwide river movement to speak with one voice, in a new Citizens’ Agenda for Rivers to be released in early 2004.

Learn more at American Rivers’s newly redesigned Web sites,, and