Big Wins

Now for the good news. Though water disputes often wind up in court—and never leave—here's something really refreshing: seven worthy fights that had a beginning, middle, and happy ending.

Aug 1, 2003
Outside Magazine
Worth Saving: Droplets

Ratio of extinction rate for North American freshwater animals to that for land animals: 5:1

Less than one: Percentage of U.S. ocean areas granted full federal marine protection status

50: Estimated percentage of U.S. threatened and endangered species that depend upon wetlands

50+: Percentage of U.S. population living in counties that border one of our coasts

Amount of the earth's surface freshwater in the Great Lakes: 18 percent

Area of U.S.-controlled ocean [in square miles]: 4.5 million

Sources: American Rivers; Pew Oceans Commission; U.S. EPA; NOAA; National Audubon Society

Gauley River, West Virginia
File Under: Victory for paddlers The Case: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has managed the gates of West Virginia's Summersville Dam since the 1960s. Local rafters got water time on the 26-mile stretch, covered with more than 100 Class III-V+ rapids, only if they were lucky enough to be on the river during a random release. In the mid-1980s, rafting outfitters, hoping to spark the region's flagging economy, convinced the Corps to arrange a release schedule for six weekends every fall. Business has been brisk ever since, and the Gauley hosted the 2001 World Rafting Championships—a first in the U.S. Will it stick? Yes. The whitewater industry brings in $9 million to $10 million to the local economy during the fall releases. Contact: Class VI River Runners, 800-252-7784,

Hudson River, New York
File Under: River cleanup The Case: Until the late 1970s, General Electric dumped toxic PCBs into the Hudson. But Congress's 1980 Superfund Law mandating that corporate polluters pick up the tab for their own messes would put a stop to GE's ways. In 2002, the EPA stuck GE with a whopping $490 million tab, which will cover the cost of dredging 40 miles of the upper Hudson. Will it stick? Very likely. Despite GE's $22 million anti-cleanup advertising campaign, the EPA issued a 2002 Record of Decision mandating that the cleanup start in 2006. Contact: Riverkeeper, 800-217-4837,

Orange County Coastline, California
File Under: Surf's up again The Case: Since 1972, the Orange County Sanitation District had exploited Clean Water Act loopholes and spewed 240 million gallons of partially treated sewage—every day—into the Pacific Ocean. By 1999, bacteria counts had pushed above the legal limit in Huntington Beach, California (a.k.a. Surf City). The resulting beach closures shut out surfers until, fed up, they banded with environmentalists to petition for the return of clean waves. Their efforts spurred the OCSD to start a chlorination program last summer and to install a full-filtration system by 2013. Will it stick? Probably. The OCSD has been on board thus far. Contact: Surfrider Foundation, 949-492-8170,

Kennebec River, Maine
File Under: Dam demolition The Case: Until four years ago, the Edwards Dam—a 25-foot-high, 917-foot-wide timber plug—blocked ten migratory fish species, including Atlantic salmon and endangered sturgeon, from spawning upstream. After a decade of fighting for fish rights, the Kennebec Coalition convinced the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the ecological consequences outweighed the benefit of the modest hydropower output, and in July 1999, FERC decommissioned the dam. Will it stick? Yes. Dam-removal momentum is picking up—since 1999, environmental groups have helped unplug more than 100 across the nation. Contact: American Rivers, 202-347-7550,

Mono Lake, California
File Under: Lake resurrection The Case: For years, Los Angeles dipped its straws into tributaries that feed Mono Lake, causing water levels in the lake to fall, increasing salinity levels, and threatening insects and shrimp that are key to the food chain. With the ecosystem in danger in 1994, the Mono Lake Committee's 16-year grassroots campaign persuaded the California State Water Resources Control Board to limit L.A.'s water rights and establish sustainable water levels for Mono Lake. Will it stick? Very likely. Lake levels are up eight feet and are expected to continue rising. Meanwhile, Los Angeles has initiated wastewater-recycling and low-flow-toilet programs. Contact: Mono Lake Committee, 760-647-6595,

Salmon River, Idaho
File Under: Keeping it wild The Case: In 1988, the Forest Service permitted outfitter Norm Guth to construct four cabins and a lodge on the Salmon River, specifically on a pristine stretch along the Montana state line in the Salmon-Challis National Forest that was protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. The environmental organization Wilderness Watch cried foul, arguing that development is prohibited on any river protected by the act. After a 12-year legal crusade, the U.S. District Court in Montana ordered the removal of Guth's Camp—now called Whitewater West (Guth sold the cabins a few years ago)—and the rehabilitation of the shoreline by 2005. Will it stick? Maybe. In the next few months, Idaho senator Larry Craig—who believes the cabins provide access to underused public land—will attempt to topple the court ruling. Contact: Wilderness Watch, 406-542-2048,

Richland-Chambers Reservoir and Trinity River, Texas
File Under: Creative wetlands The Case: Faced with a population boom in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Tarrant Regional Water District constructed 240 acres of wetlands to channel river water into the Richland-Chambers Reservoir. The wetlands will provide a natural filtration system for pollutants between the Trinity River and the reservoir, serve as habitat for area waterfowl species, and meet the growing water demands for Dallas-Fort Worth. Will it stick? Yes. The pilot program is running without a hitch, and the TRWD plans to build 1,760 more wetland acres by 2010. Contact: Tarrant Regional Water District, 817-335-2491,

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