No Gold Medals for U.S. Water Quality

Thursday, August 11, 2016

If you have been glued to your television this week watching coverage of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, like I have, then you’ve undoubtedly noticed that the Olympic diving pool has turned green!

While maybe not as interesting as watching Aly Raisman’s parents squirm in their seats, it was alarming to say the least.

At first, organizers blamed the green invasion on algae. And now they are blaming the green hue on a chemical imbalance in the pool. But as we wait for the final verdict, the green-colored pools may hit a little too close to home for many Americans watching at home.

That’s because across the country, many rivers, lakes and beaches have been shuttered as a result of toxic algae blooms. And unlike the possible algae invasion in Rio, the leading culprit in the U.S. is something that would surprise most people: farm pollution.

NASA images of Lake St. Clair in Michigan and western Lake Erie in 2015 show how large algal blooms can become.



(Source: NASA)

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that agriculture is the leading polluter of water in our country, impacting drinking water across the U.S. Nationwide, nutrient pollution and algal blooms cost the tourism industry nearly $1 billion a year.

Along the Treasure Coast of Florida, miles of waterways and beaches have been hit by the state’s huge algae problem, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency for Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach and Lee counties.

While many farmers are doing the right thing, most farners are not. That is because the incentives created by Congress are a race to the bottom when it comes to environmental protection and water quality.

We would be wise to channel the Olympic spirit in tackling the farm pollution problem, lest we decide that it is acceptable for agribusiness profits to finish ahead of safe drinking water. 


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