I’ve always been an idea guy. You know the type, someone who can think of interesting ways to spend someone else’s money. Today, I want to pitch you an idea that I don’t think would cost many of you a single dime.

Next October the U.S. will mark the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Without that piece of legislation, Rome’s three rivers might still be flowing sewers with residential waste, industrial chemical byproducts and who knows what else flowing unfettered through town.

In the past, various groups have tried to set Guinness World Records for everything from most people at a toga party to most people doing the Charleston in the street to most Schnauzers in a parade.

My idea is to set the record for most canoes and kayaks in a flotilla between the Second Avenue and Fifth Avenue bridges. I’m envisioning something like the elbow-to-elbow Peachtree Road Race for paddling. Imagine the image from the levee!

If someone were to pick up the idea, and they can have full credit, we’d have about 11 months to promote it. All to celebrate the Clean Water Act!

The Act was originally introduced by Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie in 1971. it was in the Senate late in 1971 and the House version was passed in March of ‘72. It took more than six months to get a conference committee version reconciling the two bills passed, but it happened in October of ’72. The bill was promptly vetoed by President Richard Nixon.

With lightning speed unheard of in government circles, both the House and Senate overrode the veto on the following day.

That’s an accomplishment worth celebrating in and of itself.

The forerunner of the Clean Water Act, called the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, was passed in 1948, however it was significantly rewritten and expanded in 1972. The environmental movement began with the first Earth Day in 1970 and was really picking up picking up steam a couple of years later.

The Clean Water Act — and its amendments through the years — has been vilified by many. It has cost local business, industry and governments millions of dollars in wastewater treatment expenses. One need go back no further than this past week when the Rome City Commission, in a specially called meeting, voted to replace the raw water treatment facility on Blossom Hill with disc-filter pretreatment followed by closed circuit reverse osmosis operating at a minimum 90% recovery rate. The new system is being designed to remove PFAS and PFOA chemicals at an estimated cost of $161 million.

For those of you taking notes, that’s not chump change.

The result has been a supply of potable water that makes Rome the envy of the state. We’ve got more water through town than we know what to do with. That, of course, is a figure of speech for literary license.

On the back end, upgrades to the sewage plant on Black’s Bluff Road are not terribly far down the road either. Similarly, they will not come cheap. The good news there is that our friends downstream at Lake Weiss and beyond are also able to enjoy clean water.

Recreation in our rivers has increased exponentially in recent years and I, for one, am thrilled to be able to ride over the Second and Fifth Avenue bridges during warm weather months and see folks out there in their kayaks and on their paddleboards.

The number of folks who put in sho’nuf bass boats, even smaller jon boats, is still relatively small. But I suspect that is more of a testament to the fact that boat motors can easily be damaged by the ever-floating, or snagged, natural debris in the rivers. I never cease to be amazed at the number of trees that are uprooted upstream along the banks of the Oostanaula whenever there is a significant rain event.

I spent a little time this week searching around the internet to get an idea of how many canoes and kayaks it might take to break the record. The best I could come up with was “The largest raft of canoes and kayaks consists of 3,150 boats and was achieved by One Square Mile of Hope (USA) in Inlet, New York, USA, on 13 September 2014.”

If that number has been surpassed since then, it didn’t show up in my searches. I didn’t actually make a phone call to the folks at Guinness, but if enough folks think it’s a worthwhile effort, I’ll spring for the long-distance call.

I’ll bet we can find 4,000 kayaks across North Georgia with 10 or 11 months to plan the event. It might be easier to allow folks to participate for free, but it’s probably not a bad idea to have a nominal fee to raise money for some special cause. Diabetes and Alzheimer’s research are near and dear to me, but I’m open to suggestions.

Doug Walker is the former associate editor at the Rome News-Tribune and now works as a public information officer at the City of Rome.


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