WASHINGTON — Despite improvements, nearly four of every 10 lakes, rivers and estuaries remain too polluted to allow fishing, swimming or other aquatic uses at some time of the year, the Environmental Protection Agency reported Thursday.
About 37% of the country's lakes and estuaries and 36% of its rivers have levels of pollution that make them "not clean enough to meet basic uses," the report said.
The EPA said polluted runoff from agriculture, industrial activities and urban growth are the primary causes for the pollution. It said sewage, disease-causing bacteria, fertilizer, toxic metals, oil and grease are among the most frequent pollutants.
The report said the findings are similar to results outlined in the agency's last study three years ago.
"We are holding our own in controlling water pollution, but we need to make progress," EPA Administrator Carol Browner said.
High levels of nutrients, such as phosphates and nitrates used in fertilizers, are the most widely found pollutants in lakes and estuaries. They often create "a chain of impacts that lead to excessive algae and weed growth, kill fish and cause foul odors in waterways, the report said.
The report said bacteria, usually from sewage releases, are the most frequent pollutant in the nation's rivers.
The report reflected water quality surveys by states and other agencies covering 615,806 miles, or 17%, of the nation's rivers; 17 million acres, or 42%, of the lakes, and 27,000 square miles, or 78%, of estuaries.
The EPA review was released as Vice President Al Gore criticized the Republican-dominated Congress for cutting EPA enforcement funds and slashing money the agency wants to give states to improve sewer systems and water treatment facilities.
Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), chairman of the subcommittee that crafted the spending bill, accused Gore of "grandstanding."