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2017-03-15 / Front Page
‘Water is not a partisan issue,’ CEO claims
Noting the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act with huge bipartisan support, Alabama Rivers Alliance CEO Cindy Lowry proclaimed, "Water is not a partisan issue." One of the some 45 attendees at the March 9 meeting of the Blount County Democratic Club concurred by observing that it passed under Republican President Richard Nixon.
[Research for this article removed some of the optimism for that. While the record indicates in its first wording that the bill passed the Senate 86-0 and in a later conference committee version with still no negative Senate votes (74-0), it still required an override of a Nixon veto to become law. Losing that fight, Nixon later impounded funds for its implementation until the Supreme Court in Train v City of New York (1975) declared those actions unlawful. Nearly a decade-and-a-half earlier, another bill with similar objectives died at the hands of President Dwight Eisenhower's veto pen, with his contention the problem was for state concerns rather than national.] Reasons for concern and pride
Lowry made her case for water protection by revealing that only 3 percent of earth’s water is fresh (not salty) and that two-thirds of that is frozen. As head of the rivers' alliance, the Oneonta native proudly shared points that underline the importance of that valuable resource to Alabama.
Some have labeled Alabama "The River State," she contended, because of that abundant local resource. Lowry asserted the state has "over 132,000 miles of perennial and intermittent streams. The state ranks first in the nation for freshwater biodiversity considering its fish, crayfish, mussels, snails, and turtles. The state has more turtle species alone than any other. There are more known fish species (135) in just the state's Cahaba (River)," its only substantially free-flowing river, "than in all of California."
Lowry shared that 10 percent of the freshwater resources of the entire nation either originate in or flow through Alabama. Despite the abundance of water, Lowry asserted that with the exception of Lake Jackson, shared with Florida, there are no natural lakes in Alabama. [In 2015, Lake Jackson reverted from state to local hands after Governor Robert Bentley's closure of 22 state parks.]
In another distinctive, Lowry revealed Alabama's Sipsey Wilderness in the Bankhead National Forest as the state and nation's first east-of-the-Mississippi River wilderness area. That most-frequently-visited Alabama wilderness covers nearly 25,000 acres around the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River. A concerned Alabamian, Mary Ivy Burks, fought for Congressional recognition that wilderness areas could exist beyond the presumed exclusive western United States. EPA's founding and task
While Nixon may deserve criticism for his actions with regard to the Clean Water Act, he merits praise for establishing the Environmental Protection Agency, first by executive order and later by Congressional action. Lowry reviewed some of the pollution problems the nation had faced during and prior to the 1960s.
In her slide presentation, Lowry showed the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio, burning in 1969. She noted the river had "caught fire" before but this incident, highlighted by Time magazine coverage, brought national attention to man's destruction of God's gifts.
Sounding notes of conciliation, Lowry spoke of complaints that EPA has over-reaching regulations. President Donald Trump has rolled back at least one of the agency’s regulations and has appointed as its new director Scott Pruitt, a skeptic of the role humans play in contributing to various environmental problems.
Lowry notes her organization is not anti-jobs, as some view environmentalists. She agrees that some jobs are lost because of regulations, but she notes some jobs are also created. She seeks dialogue and conversation as means of addressing these issues. She sees EPA and its Alabama partner, ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management), as "very necessary."
Lowry held that over 80 percent of the waste water treatment plants in the state had violations during the past three years. Discharge from these plants affect almost all; "no one downstream has water assured them" under present laws and regulations.
Alabama, Georgia, and Florida have now fought for decades over water use. Lowry says Alabama did not join the latest Supreme Court battle because state leaders knew they were in a precarious position. The state has no water management plan and would face court grilling in any legal argument.
In addition to water discharges, state streams have also suffered because of air pollution. Lowry warned, "Solutions for one problem often create another." With that, she explained that required scrubbers for electricity generating coal plants have led to coal ash. The coal ash cleaned from towers presently goes into ponds and becomes toxic sludge which can leach into soil and water and burst into streams. The 2008 TVA Kingston Fossil Plant pond rupture sent over 1 billion gallons and an estimated 5.4 million cubic yards of ash sludge raining down on houses and into the environment.
This and similar disasters have polluted streams, just as have other industrial heavy metals from plants on the Tennessee River, in Georgia on the Coosa, and elsewhere over the state. Those releases have poisoned fish, leaving a legacy that threatens those who eat significant or even small amounts of some species. Possible responses
Lowry provided actions open to those concerned about man's stewardship of God's gifts. She spoke of riverkeeper organizations in the state, dedicated presently to eight of the state's watersheds. These have emerged from Waterkeeper Alliance, presently headed by Robert Kennedy Jr., and enlist individuals to monitor water quality and broadcast dangers they may see with changing stream conditions.
Lowry praised the establishment of a guide to fishing on the Coosa River, which has expanded to others and whose information can be accessed at (844) 219-RISK (or 7475). She also encouraged audience members to press state officials to work toward a state water management plan.
She said Gov. Bentley appointed AWAWG (Alabama Water Agencies Working Group) to develop such a plan in 2014, but has yet to release the group's completed findings. She suggested the public could pressure Bentley to share those findings.
In conclusion, Lowry said the public can 1) learn about the issues, 2) talk to friends, 3) talk to elected officials, 4) write letters to editors, 5) join environmental groups and 6) care.
The conservation of Alabama and the nation's living, drinking, and recreational waters should not be a partisan issue but one of concern to all thinking individuals.
The county Democratic club will continue the series begun by Lowry with its next meeting on April 13. Methodist minister and former state legislator James C. Fields is scheduled to speak on "Separation of Church and State in a Religiously Diverse Society" at 6:30 p.m. in this ATIP (Addressing The Issues Programs) series.