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Protecting Wildlife From Polluted Water

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

A coalition of conservation groups claims recently weakened federal water quality standards pose a threat to wildlife in Kentucky - both from coal mining and agricultural pollution.

The conservation groups are asking the U.S. District Court to order the Environmental Protection Agency to reassess the dangers of its new regulations, claiming they violate the Endangered Species Act.

"They want to compel the EPA to do an endangered species assessment of endangered species in the action area - in other words, the waters of Kentucky," said Alice Howell, a member of the executive committee of the Sierra Club in Kentucky, one of the groups involved in the court battle.

Last November, the EPA changed its water-quality standards for nutrient pollution from agricultural runoff and from selenium, a pollutant commonly released during mountaintop removal of coal.

While much of the debate in Kentucky is over the impact of coal mining on the state's waterways, Howell said, agricultural runoff also has an impact because it can cause a rapid increase in algae.

"These algal blooms have health impacts for people that come in contact with them," she said, "and they're slowly choking the waters of not just Kentucky but our nation."

That hurts tourism linked to Kentucky's popular lakes and streams, Howell said.

In addition, algae depletes the oxygen needed to support most aquatic life, which Howell said reduces the biodiversity of species.

"Not just aquatic species," she said, "but all of the animals that feed on aquatic species."

The Sierra Club was one of four Kentucky groups that filed a lawsuit immediately after the weakened water-quality standards were issued, claiming the rules are insufficient to protect waterways and wildlife under the Clean Water Act.

Recently, two national wildlife conservation groups, Defenders of Wildlife and Center for Biological Diversity, joined the case, as the impact on the Endangered Species Act was added to the lawsuit.

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