Water pollution is a major global problem, and considered one of the leading causes of death and disease worldwide. At its worst, water pollution occurs when harmful substances, usually chemicals or microorganisms contained in chemical spills, sewage, trash, or other kinds of waste products, contaminate the groundwater, streams, rivers, lakes, or the ocean,- rendering the water toxic to both humans and/or wildlife. A few of the causes? Leaking sewer pipes are a common cause that allows polluted water to seep into the environment on a daily basis. Another common situation is the proliferation of concrete, associated with urban development and the way it channels trash and pollutants into rivers. Our agricultural practices, when not managed properly, are yet another of the many important factors effecting water quality.
Leaking Sewer Pipes
Most likely, you are already aware that certain aspects of our infrastructure require constant maintenance and repair. For example, we all know that aging bridges need to be replaced. Highways need to be widened sometimes, and potholes in roadways need to be constantly repaired and maintained. But did you know there’s another aspect of our infrastructure that is aging and in need of repair as well?; … It’s our sewer pipe systems. But because they are out of sight, they are very easily out-of-mind as well. But concrete sewer pipes can crack and crumble as they grow old. In their endless search for water, aggressive tree roots can pry sewer lines open, and allow raw sewage to escape into the surrounding soil. Escaping sewage can pollute groundwater, and make its way into aquifers, streams, and rivers, and finally, even to the oceans..
“The status of our streams, rivers, lakes, marine ecosystems and coral reefs remains critical, both in terms of species and habitats.”
Broken sewer lines are far from the only aspect of urban development that contributes to water pollution. Our rivers depend on their surrounding lands for a constant supply of clean water trickling in from their banks. But concrete and asphalts are known as “impervious” surfaces. Impervious means that water can’t soak through them, and that’s the irony: concrete does its job well. And as it proliferates and spreads out everywhere, a result of constant urban development and sprawl, the concrete surfaces contribute to water pollution by trapping and pooling rainwater that falls over large swaths of land. We take for granted the manner in which they channel the water out of our way, for our convenience, without allowing it to soak into the dirt. But what’s missing in this picture? The entire process of the water flowing and filtering naturally through the soil. It should be getting filtered naturally by the soil instead of running over a dirty, greasy parking lot. The rainwater picks up all manner of chemicals, trash, and plastics along the way, and carries it into the storm drains, to the streams and rivers, and of course, to the ocean.
The agricultural practices employed by our growing population can have a tremendous impact on water quality as well. Pesticides and fertilizers used over large areas of land can leach from the soil into groundwater aquifers, or be carried by rainfall into streams and rivers. When they are carried to the ocean, they can create oxygen-deprived “dead zones” in the aquatic environment. Animal waste products from animal agriculture pose a very similar challenge. Today, industrial and intensive farming dominate livestock production. Nearly all the meat, poultry and dairy products come from industrial-scale operations where thousands of cattle, pigs and chickens are kept in cramped, confined conditions, indoors and on dirt lots. But when you confine large numbers of animals like this, you also have to deal with the huge volumes of waste they produce. Like pesticides and fertilizers, toxic contaminants from mismanaged farm waste systems can find its way into groundwater aquifers, polluting drinking water and killing aquatic life.
Clean water is essential for both human and environmental health. But with the world’s population now exceeding over 7 billion people, it is under multiple pressures. The status of our streams, rivers, lakes, marine ecosystems and coral reefs remains critical, both in terms of species and habitats. If we are going to save them, we must act now, updating and modernizing our infrastructure for water waste, sewage, and treatment plants, developing and utilizing water-permeable concrete for our cities, and changing and managing our agricultural techniques and coinciding dietary habits. Water conservation includes all the policies, strategies and activities to protect our streams, rivers, and oceans, and to meet the current and future human demand.
“Pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic contaminants can find their way into groundwater aquifers, polluting drinking water and killing aquatic life..”
References and Resources:
The Office of Water (OW) ensures drinking water is safe, and restores and maintains oceans, watersheds, and their aquatic ecosystems to protect human health, support economic and recreational activities, and provide healthy habitat for fish, plants and wildlife.
The mission of American Rivers is to protect wild rivers, restore damaged rivers and conserve clean water for people and nature.
Since 2003, the Save Our Seas Foundation has been dedicated to protecting life in our oceans, with a special emphasis on sharks and rays.
Books and journals featuring information for all aspects of water, wastewater and related environmental fields.
Clean water is an essential resource for human health, agriculture, energy production, transport and nature. But it is also under multiple pressures. Currently, only 40% of Europe’s surface water bodies achieve good ecological status.
World Water Day 2020, on 22 March, is about water and climate change – and how the two are inextricably linked. (UN Water).