The Environment

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But ever since 1962 the Army Corps of Engineers has tried to gain congressional authorization to build a 200-million-dollar, 483-foot-high hydroelectric dam on the Big South Fork at Devils Jumps pass in Kentucky. The lake formed behind the dam would still the rapids and drown the house-high boulders for twenty-nine miles back along the South Fork and for many more miles of the river’s handsome tributaries. Five times the dam was approved by the Senate; five times it was rejected by the House Public Works Committee. Only conflicting economic interests—private power against public power, coal interests against hydroelectric power—kept the South Fork wild. By 1968 the economics of hydroelectric dams made such projects more difficult to justify. Also, the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning had been formed by two prominent geneticists at the Oak Ridge laboratories in Tennessee, Doctors William and Liane Russell, a husband and wife team who are also white-water enthusiasts and regularly float the Big South Fork. Thanks to their skillful efforts, the unspoiled river began to come to public notice. A 1964 Bureau of Outdoor Recreation wild-river report that had been suppressed came to light. The report had concluded that “the highest and best uses of the resources of the Big South Fork … appear to be as a national wild river from both a public recreation and economic standpoint.” InJuIy, 1968, at the urging of Senator John Sherman Cooper of Kentucky, who had always championed the dam to help the depressed economy of the area, the Army engineers and the departments of Interior and Agriculture were asked to submit to Congress a joint study report of alternative uses for the river without recommending any one of them. The 137-page report transmitted this February considered six alternatives “feasible and appropriate,” including designation as a national scenic river, a recreation area, a national forest, and a national park. The future of the Big South Fork need no longer be settled on the narrow basis of a single project. Conservationists hope a similar broad basis for action will be provided Congress in other resource-development projects. The luxury of leaving an unspoiled area unprotected is no longer ours.

THE ENGINEERS SIGN ON

Chemical engineers in Texas have joined the pollution fight with a local program so successful that the American Institute of Chemical Engineers is encouraging others throughout the country to follow their lead. In March, 1968, Dr. A. Roy Price, thirty-nine, who works for a pollution-abatement company in Houston, led the formation of a volunteer Pollution Solution Group of some forty chemical engineers. Eventually they were joined by mechanical and civil engineers and other technically trained people. Dr. Price had been stung to action by Dr. John McKetta, then dean of engineering at the University of Texas, who has been severely chastising engineers jar not joining the battle to save the environment.

As part of its program of public service, the group focused on the mud-pie-like Buffalo Bayou, which flows through the center of downtown Houston. With little hope for a major reduction in silt flow into the bayou (although they pinpointed and helped correct one major discharge from a laundry), the engineers set out to find a technique to clean it up. Months of careful work, closely followed by an interested local press, led to discovery of a way to use the liquid waste (containing aluminum chloride) from a nearby chemical plant to settle the solids and leave the water crystalline. The group is seeking a demonstration grant from the Federal Water Pollution Control Administration to extend its cleanup of the bayou.

Nowadays, most meetings of the Institute of Chemical Engineers will find Dr. Price, with an exhibit and copies of the action manual he has prepared, helping to start other groups on a course of effective grass-roots action.

THE GOOSE ON THE DUCK STAMP

Since the passage in 1934 of the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act all waterfowl hunters in this country have been required each year to buy a “duck stamp.” The painting above of two Ross’s geese by National Park Service artist Edward Bierly is the winning design for this year’s duck stamp, to go on sale July l in U. S. post offices. Few Americans have seen these small (mallard-sized), immaculate white geese, and relatively little is known about them. The birds winter in the valleys of California and each spring fly north to nesting grounds in Arctic Canada. In spite of persistent exploration, the location of those grounds remained a mystery for nearly two centuries. But on the last day of June, 1940, two officers of the Hudson’s Bay Company who set out from the Perry River post (about seventy-five miles north of the Arctic Circle) to look for the elusive nesting sites, finally solved one of North America’s last remaining ornithological riddles. Angus Gavin, one of the men on the trip, described the excitement of that discovery.