River Roar. Inland Waterways Festival. Rivers, Trails and Ales. Sternwheel Festival. American Queen scheduled for 2012 visit. And the news of the new Queen of the Mississippi sternwheeler. What is the focus of these events? Not just rivers but clean rivers.
No one would think to celebrate dirty rivers - and no one would have built a bike trail along the river 40 years ago either. Riverfront addresses were not preferred in those days - people were buying swampland in Florida before buying riverfront properties. River cities turned their backs on the river and for good reason - they looked and smelled bad.
Now rivers are seen as an asset - how did this amazing change occur?
Did all the companies, governments and residents with straight pipelines to the river suddenly have attacks of conscience? Possibly, but I suggest it had more to do with the formation of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency as well as the USEPA and passage of legislation such as the Clean Water Act. Legislation is useless without agencies to administer and enforce.
What? those agencies everyone loves to hate? Well, actually not everyone - some people appreciate breathing clean air and drinking clean water and actually believe there is still room for improvement. Nonetheless, some people find it difficult to pass up an opportunity to bash the EPA.
However, local residents were glad the OEPA was able to tackle the problem of fracking sand on streets and homes and in lungs a few weeks ago - no one else was touching the problem.
Landfills are a relatively new concept because of OEPA but, of course, the thrill of shooting rats in a smoking, reeking dump is no longer an option - maybe that is why people have time to plan and participate in all the river celebrations. Not many tourists were attracted to rat-shooting anyway.
There is no question that forward-looking legislation and the EPAs provide us with a much higher quality of life than we would have otherwise.
Now, all of these benefits and more are on the chopping block at both state and federal level. Not that anyone is claiming dirty rivers are better - they plan to achieve their ends by manipulating budgets and it is surely coincidence their financial supporters will profit.
Good legislation requires good scientific information.
Scientific research is not like a sausage maker where the ingredients are inserted and out comes the sausage. Studies and research take time but solid information is required to make wise decisions.
Scientific research is more important than party affiliation and facts are not always convenient. Someone or some company is going to have to change their ways or the situation simply won't improve. Often, people resist change especially when polluting the water is cheaper than cleaning it up. Those people often have the ear of those passing legislation.
Signing pledges that ends up doing the bidding of the already wealthy and powerful is incompatible with good governance. Such pledges do provide a sort of cover: "Sorry, can't think that issue through and decide on its merits - I signed the pledge, you know." Such robotic response would be funny if the consequences weren't so dire.
Safeguards for the environment are interpreted as nothing more than inconvenient regulations by some.
The gains in environmental protection that have been made during the past forty years can be undone if each of us is not paying attention and letting our legislators know these gains and more are important to us.
The same strategies tobacco companies used so successfully to almost convince the public that their products were health-aids are now being used on the environmental front.
Scientific research eventually turned that perception around. There should be no question about the importance of clean air and water and every resident's right to enjoy them. Scientific facts are now available about the sources of much of the pollution and how it can be rectified.
Can the public be diverted from their daily activities sufficiently to let our legislators know how important environmental protection is to our quality of life as well as that of our grandchildren?
Marilyn Ortt of 701 Colegate Drive, Marietta, is a member of the Marietta City Tree Commission. Our Earth appears on alternate weeks in the weekend edition.