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The Planet

    The Planet
    July/August 1998, Volume 5, Number 6


By John Byrne Barry

    Canoeists: Don't Forget Your Test Tubes
    If Hank Graddy gets his wish, when canoeists on Sierra Club outings in Kentucky launch their boats into the streams, they'll be packing more than paddles. Also on board will be sterile lab-approved sample grab bottles.

    That's already happened on five outings. It's part of the Cumberland Chapter's Watershed Watch project, which, with Graddy as project manager, has trained 430 volunteers in the last two years to monitor streams and assess habitat in the Salt, Licking and Kentucky rivers.

    Using criteria from the Environmental Protection Agency, volunteers go to the stream -- most of them walk or drive instead of paddle -- then wade in, take a water sample for the lab and do some field tests for dissolved ogygen and pH.

    A lab then tests for five pesticides, as well as human and animal waste. The data is shared with the state Division of Water, the Kentucky River Authority and other interested parties.

    "We are not discovering something that no one has discovered before," says Graddy, "but we're testing where it hasn't been tested before."

    The next step, says Alice Howell, past chair of the project steering committee and member of the Bluegrass Group, will be a roundtable discussion this fall to determine action for each watershed.

    "We expect there are too many nutrients in the creeks -- agricultural runoff, lawn chemicals and improperly treated human waste," says Graddy.

    Graddy says he is enthusiastic about the program because it integrates conservation into outings. "We're trying to turn activism from something that happens inside a building to something that happens on a streambank."
    Two-thirds of the participants have not been Sierra Club members, he adds.
    You can find dozens of photos of Watershed Watch events at the Kentucky Division of Water Web site:

    Avoid the Shaft
    The Santa Fe Group and Rio Grande Chapter celebrated Earth Day by publishing Sue McIntosh's manual for fighting bad mines, "Avoiding the Shaft: A New Mexico Citizen's Mining Manual," with a major editorial assist from volunteer Barbara Johnson.

    Two years in the making, the manual is a comprehensive look at mining, its effects on the environment and how the public can stop or mitigate potential damage to watersheds and wildlife. It grew out of efforts to stop Cobre's Continental Mine near Fierra and Richard Price's pumice mine near Jemez. Activists regularly called on McIntosh, an attorney and former director of the chapter's Mining Oversight and Control Committee, for advice; eventually members of the Santa Fe Group convinced her to write down what she's learned over the years.

    "Few citizens, however well-intentioned, can cope with the array of industry experts and lawyers they will face when opposing a mine," says McIntosh.

    The manual focuses on New Mexico but is applicable for citizen activists elsewhere; it tells how to harness the Clean Water Act, National Environmental Protection Act and Freedom of Information Act.

    Other contributors to the manual include Chapter Mining Issues Chair Abe Jacobson, Cliff Larsen, Doug Fraser, and many others.

    To receive a copy, send $10 plus $2.50 postage and handling to: Mining Manual, Santa Fe Group Sierra Club, 621 Old Santa Fe Trail, Ste. 10, Santa Fe, NM 87501, or call (505) 983-2703.

    And the Winner: Ford Valdez (and the Sierra Club's Sense of Humor)
    We reported back in April about the Club's "Name that Gas Guzzler" contest, which aimed to help Ford find an appropriate name for next year's four-ton sport-utility vehicle. Now we have a winner, and the announcement garnered tons of press and made the Big 3 automakers squirm.

    First place went to "Ford Valdez -- Have you driven a tanker lately?"
    Other winning entries: "Ford Saddam" and "Ford Fiasco."

    The Seattle Times commended the efforts of the "tongue-in-cheek" contest to "transform the image of the popular sport-utility vehicles from that of sporty, go-anywhere family transportation, to environmental menace."

    "Don't say the Sierra Club doesn't know how to have fun," wrote John Monahan in the Worcester, Mass., Sunday Telegram.

    A 'Swimmable, Fishable' Potomac
    For five years, reports Maryland volunteer Bonnie Bick, Joe Stewart and other strong swimmers have raised money for Potomac River conservation efforts by swimming across it. This year, on the last Saturday in May, their seven-mile swim, from the Virginia shore to Point Lookout, Md., was part of a weekend of events organized by the Maryland Conservation Council.

    The night before the swim, the Southern Maryland Astronomy Association hosted a star-gazing event, the Maryland Audubon organized a morning bird walk and the Friends of the Mattawoman presented a slide show about Mattawoman Creek, the most productive spawning and nursery area along the Potomac.

    "The Potomac is a real winner in terms of the Clean Water Act," says Bick, "but still has a long way to go. I would never want to stick my face in the water upriver, near Chapman Forest. Our goal is a river that is fishable and swimmable its entire length."

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