Thursday, April 8, 2010

Celebrating success: The stirring comeback story of the Detroit River


Environmentalists are notoriously leery of celebrating good news. The moment you acknowledge how much cleaner a river is or how much less smog is in the air above a city, it will be seized on by some people as a good reason to gut the laws and other protections that made the improvement possible in the first place.

So with the caveat that we have a long way to go, let’s revel in the comeback of the Detroit River, as chronicled in today’s Detroit News: http://bit.ly/9jQM66

It was only a generation back that the Rouge River, which flows into the Detroit River, caught fire due to the industrial chemicals and flammable debris floating on its surface. The Detroit River still suffers from its image an industrial cesspool. Visitors are often shocked to learn that it is a world-class walleye fishery. And I’ll never forget the story of the biologist who – using a crude egg trap hastily cobbled together from duct tape and Home Depot scraps -- confirmed in 2001 the first spawning sturgeon in the river in 30 years.

John Hartig http://bit.ly/cMwgnn, featured in the News’ story, is a true hero in the battle to protect what’s left of the natural systems that nurture the river. But he’s just one of thousands of Michiganders who fought tooth-and-nail during the past 40 years to bring the river back. Those fights occurred in the halls of Washington where Congressman John Dingell helped pass the Clean Water Act, to the very shores of the Humbug Marsh where grassroots citizens fought for more than a decade to keep condos from destroying the last remaining coastal wetland along the U.S. side of the river.

The river is cleaner because of laws requiring treatment of human sewage and regulations limiting toxic chemical releases among many other measures. It’s a stirring example of how a committed citizenry, demanding strong stewardship of our natural resources from elected officials, can make a huge difference.

There are powerful lobbies trying to weaken the very laws that created this success: http://bit.ly/am4NY7. An apathetic electorate is a sure-fire way to ensure that they succeed. That’s worth considering when you you’re your votes this August and November

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