American rivers are no longer treated as raw sewage and industrial waste dumping grounds. The Cuyahoga River no longer catches fire. Lake Erie has been resurrected (mostly) from the dead. All thanks to the Clean Water Act of 1972.

But, according to the Environmental Protection Agency's 2008-2009 National Rivers and Stream Assessment, U.S. rivers aren't out of the woods just yet.

The report found that 55 percent of U.S. rivers and streams are in poor condition biologically and only 21 percent are in good health.

While the causes of poor river health can be many, the EPA report noted that the biggest culprits are nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus. Normal amounts of nutrients may be good for rivers and aquatic life, but too much of a good thing increases algae growth, which decreases oxygen needed by other aquatic life.

The excess nitrogen and phosphorus, common ingredients in fertilizers, are coming from farms, livestock feeding operations, cities and sewers. The report also found that 9 percent of waterways contained bacteria levels high enough to be a threat to human health, and it reaffirmed the high levels of mercury in fish in thousands of miles of U.S. rivers.

Surely we can do better. The Clean Water Act brought us a long way, but there's more to be done.

Yes, it costs money to keep our rivers clean and healthy. But it would cost considerably more to let them degrade further.


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Loveland (Colo.) Daily Reporter-Herald, April 1

Brain research initiative to greatly help brain disorders

President Barack Obama officially announced his new brain research initiative on Tuesday, with a pledge to put $100 million in his 2014 budget to support work at three federal agencies. It is a modest but welcome start for an effort that could transform our understanding of how the brain works and help researchers find new ways to treat and prevent brain disorders like epilepsy and Alzheimer's.

The ultimate aim is to learn how the brain generates thoughts, dreams, memories, perceptions and other mental images; how it stores and retrieves vast quantities of data; and how it learns from experience or education. More immediately, the aim is to generate new technologies in data processing, nanotechnology, optogenetics and other esoteric fields to study how billions of brain cells and complex neural circuits interact.

The $100 million will be split among the National Institutes of Health, the lead agency for biomedical research; the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has a strong interest in treating soldiers with brain injuries; and the National Science Foundation, which supports a broad range of research in numerous fields. Federal officials say $100 million in the first year will be sufficient to convene expert groups to identify worthwhile projects and to collaborate with private donors who are also pouring millions into brain research.

Some researchers think a higher level of financing perhaps $300 million in federal support annually will be needed over the next decade to make substantial progress. For now, Obama's challenge to the nation's research community to get started is a big leap forward.

New York Times, April 2