Gordon Leisch ('56, '65M)
Retired Field Biologist
Gordon Leisch first noticed it as a teenager, when one of his favorite fishing spots on the Potomac River suddenly changed color and the fish stopped biting, sometimes for days. He traced the foul-smelling muck to a small feeder stream near Georgetown, but the pollution's origin remained a mystery to him until 1974, nearly 30 years later. That's when Leisch, working as a field biologist for the federal government, came across an environmental permit for a water treatment plant operated by the Army Corps of Engineers ¿ a permit fraught with mistakes and inaccuracies that allowed the agency to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical-laden water and silt back into the Potomac in violation of water protection and endangered species laws. Leisch sounded the alarm. At first, "Nobody would touch it." Twenty-five years and a congressional subcommittee hearing later, the Corps was finally ordered to clean up its act.
"The Corps of Engineers, EPA, National Park Service, one way or another, knew that they were in violation of the law and they seemed to make excuses, tell the public one thing, but do another. — You don't get overnight change, but say in the next four or five years, there will be absolutely everything that should have been done beforehand."