National Geographic : 1993 Nov 30
Sludge busters U Plants, bacteria, snails, and fish with an appetite for filth naturally break down sewage piped into vats at an experimental greenhouse in Providence, Rhode Island. After about five days the brew is safe to discharge, nearly drinkable, and even smells good, says manager Scott Sargert, eyeing before-and-after samples. Willamette, once an industrial ruin. Now that phosphate detergent use has been cut back, even Lake Erie is sitting up in bed. I've flown down Maine's Penobscot River, where salmon have come home in numbers not seen for dec ades. And I've watched ducks feeding at the mouth of the Cuyahoga itself. mess. The Clean Water Act did lower some point-source pollution, but nonpoint sources, also called polluted runoff, remain rampant. The natural system of lakes, streams, and water movement is so complex that attempting to clean up without taking care of the whole process is like trying to keep a loved one's heart beating in a glass case. For WATER: THE PROMISE OF RESTORATION instance, to help stop polluted runoff, you must protect the natural landscape along the bank of the river-the riparian zone. Or, as we've learned from the Cape Cod aquifer in Massachusetts and the Edwards aquifer in Texas, to get clean and abundant supplies of groundwater, you have to pay attention to what's going into the huge stone sponge of the aquifer and how much is going out. "What initially appears complex," Rosgen once told me, "upon further examination turns out to be more so." Yet we don't have the polit ical structure to cope with this complexity. So people like Marion Stoddart and Dave Rosgen, the river keepers, and sometimes even the Corps of Engineers all have one thing in com mon: They're trying to figure out better ways to adapt politics to water.