PBS gave a sneak preview of its Frontline documentary, Poisoned Waters, today at the National Press Club. The featured speakers included EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and the founding EPA Administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus, who served under Richard Nixon. Both agreed that to really clean up our nation’s waterways, we need one thing: new legislation.
“There is murkiness about the jurisdiction that states have within the clean water act,” said Jackson, who — see below — was filled with puns today. “Folks approach a particular wetland or stream and say ‘Do I need a permit?’ There is anything but clarity on when water means water.”
In the documentary, journalist and Pulitzer prize winner Hendrick Smith explores the science and politics of the massive amounts of polluted runoff from industry, agriculture and suburban development that run into America’s waterways each year.
At the sneak preview, Jackson spoke about agricultural runoff, which is one of the country’s biggest hurdles toward clean water. The documentary shows vivid images of overcrowded hog farms, chicken farms and cow ranches along riverways, pointing out that a major inland water polluter is animal manure.
“As we all know, manure happens,” joked Jackson. But she and Ruckelshaus both noted that a major obstacle toward passing legislation or reforming the Clean Water Act is to wake people up to the practices that contribute to damaged waterways — and to the idea that they are still, in fact, polluted.
Ruckelshaus said that although 97 percent of people polled in the Puget Sound area feel a responsibility to keep it clean, more than 70 percent of them also think its waters are in excellent health. (They’re not.) He stressed that the country needs rules to guide the conduct of individuals and companies in the way they interact with environment. Eventually, he thinks, the culture of quick-fixes needs to give way to real stewardship.
“If we’re going to protect the environment for ourselves and all the living things we share the world with, we have to stay everlastingly at it,” he said.
View a teaser for the documentary, which will air on PBS April 21 (check local listings), here: