Water is very important to the human body. Every one of your cells, organs and tissues use water to help with temperature regulation, keeping hydrated and maintaining bodily functions. In addition, water acts as a lubricant and cushions your joints. Drinking water is great for your overall health. Every living being on this planet requires water. Water is Life. Water is our most precious resource. We can't live without it. Nor can vast numbers of species. But we are facing a global water crisis.
Today, nearly two billion people live in areas at risk from severe water scarcity, while water crises are one of the greatest risks to the global economy. We’ve lost 83% of freshwater species populations since 1970 and a third of our remaining wetlands – the world’s life support systems.
Freshwater on the land surface is a vital part of the water cycle for everyday life. On the landscape, freshwater is stored in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, creeks and streams. Most of the water earthlings use daily comes from these sources of water on the land surface.
One part of the water cycle that is obviously essential to all life on Earth is the freshwater existing on the Earths surface.
Surface water includes the lakes, reservoirs (human-made lakes), ponds, streams (of all sizes, from large rivers to small creeks), canals (human-made lakes and streams), and freshwater wetlands. The definition of freshwater is water containing less than 1,000 milligrams per liter of dissolved solids, most often salt.
As a part of the water cycle, Earth's surface-water bodies are generally thought of as renewable resources, although they are very dependent on other parts of the water cycle. The amount of water in rivers and lakes is always changing due to inflows and outflows.
Inflows to these water bodies will be from precipitation, overland runoff, groundwater seepage, and tributary inflows. Outflows from lakes and rivers include evaporation, movement of water into groundwater, and withdrawals by people. Life can even bloom in the desert if there is a supply of surface water (or groundwater) available. Water on the land surface sustains life
You might think that fish living in the saline oceans aren't affected by freshwater, but, without freshwater to replenish the oceans they would eventually evaporate and become too saline for even the fish to survive. And so fresh and unpolluted water is vital to the survival of species on land and in the ocean.
Not only does water sustain life on Earth. Water is home to so many species. Water is habitat in the form of rivers, lakes, reservoirs, creeks and streams. Abundant and housing diverse life. When we poison the water. When we redirect the flow of water and rivers and streams and they dry up, we lose species that were dependent on water as life sustaining and as a home.
Usable fresh surface water is relatively scarce
To many people, streams and lakes are the most visible part of the water cycle. Not only do they supply the human population, animals, and plants with the freshwater they need to survive, but they are great places for people to have fun and with that comes water pollution along with the pollution from agriculture, mining and large scale production industries.
Our rivers, reservoirs, lakes, and seas are drowning in chemicals, waste, plastic, and other pollutants and so are the animals and all life on Earth. The widespread problem of water pollution is jeopardizing our health. Most people living in urban spaces have access to safe drinking water however potentially harmful contaminants—from arsenic to copper to lead—have been found in the tap water throughout the world.
Water pollution occurs when harmful substances—often chemicals or microorganisms—contaminate a stream, river, lake, ocean, aquifer, or other body of water, degrading water quality and rendering it toxic to humans or the environment.
Not only is the agricultural sector the biggest consumer of global freshwater resources, with farming and livestock production using about 70 percent of the earth’s surface water supplies, but it’s also a serious water polluter. Around the world, agriculture is the leading cause of water degradation.
Every time it rains, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste from farms and livestock operations wash nutrients and pathogens—such bacteria and viruses—into our waterways. Nutrient pollution, caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water or air, is the number-one threat to water quality worldwide and can cause algal blooms, a toxic soup of blue-green algae that can be harmful to people and wildlife.
Water is crucial and yet we trash it.
Near 80 percent of the world’s wastewater is dumped, largely untreated, back into the environment, polluting rivers, lakes, and oceans. This is a health risk. Our drinkable water sources are finite and Less than 1 percent of the Earth’s freshwater is actually accessible to us. Water is uniquely vulnerable to pollution. Known as a “universal solvent,” water is able to dissolve more substances than any other liquid on Earth. Toxic substances from farms, towns, and factories readily dissolve into and mix with it, causing water pollution. It is rather mind boggling that human race has gone so far with total disregard of the impact we have on the Earth, Water, Air and Soil.
Here are but a few categories of water pollution :
When rain falls and seeps deep into the earth, filling the cracks, crevices, and porous spaces of an aquifer (basically an underground storehouse of water), it becomes groundwater—one of our least visible but most important natural resources. For some folks in rural areas, it’s their only freshwater source. Groundwater gets polluted when contaminants—from pesticides and fertilizers to waste leached from landfills and septic systems—make their way into an aquifer, rendering it unsafe for human use. Ridding groundwater of contaminants can be difficult to near impossible, as well as costly. Once polluted, an aquifer may be unusable for decades, or even thousands of years. Groundwater can also spread contamination far from the original polluting source as it seeps into streams, lakes, and oceans.
Covering about 70 percent of the earth, surface water is what fills our oceans, lakes, rivers, and all those other blue bits on the world map. A significant pool of that water is in peril. According to the most recent surveys on national water quality from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, nearly half of our rivers and streams and more than one-third of our lakes are polluted and unfit for swimming, fishing, and drinking. Nutrient pollution, which includes nitrates and phosphates, is the leading type of contamination in these freshwater sources. While plants and animals need these nutrients to grow, they have become a major pollutant due to farm waste and fertilizer runoff. Municipal and industrial waste discharges contribute their fair share of toxins as well. There’s also all the random junk that industry and individuals dump directly into waterways.
Eighty percent of ocean pollution (also called marine pollution) originates on land—whether along the coast or far inland. Contaminants such as chemicals, nutrients, and heavy metals are carried from farms, factories, and cities by streams and rivers into our bays and estuaries; from there they travel out to sea. Meanwhile, marine debris—particularly plastic—is blown in by the wind or washed in via storm drains and sewers. Our seas are also spoiled by oil spills and leaks—big and small—and are consistently soaking up carbon pollution from the air. The ocean absorbs as much as a quarter of man-made carbon emissions.
When contamination originates from a single source, it’s called point source pollution. Examples include wastewater (also called effluent) discharged legally or illegally by a manufacturer, oil refinery, or wastewater treatment facility, as well as contamination from leaking septic systems, chemical and oil spills, and illegal dumping. The EPA regulates point source pollution by establishing limits on what can be discharged by a facility directly into a body of water. While point source pollution originates from a specific place, it can affect miles of waterways and ocean.
Nonpoint source pollution is contamination derived from diffuse sources. These may include agricultural or storm water runoff and/or debris blown into waterways from land. Nonpoint source pollution is the leading cause of water pollution in most countries but it’s difficult to regulate, since there’s no single, identifiable culprit.
It goes without saying that water pollution can’t be contained by a line on a map. Transboundary pollution is the result of contaminated water from one country spilling into the waters of another. Contamination can result from a disaster—like an oil spill—or the slow, downriver creep of industrial, agricultural, or municipal discharge. In the end we only have one Earth and Once Ocean. Everything is connected and what we do matters.
The Most Common Types of Water Contamination
Not only is the agricultural sector the biggest consumer of global freshwater resources, with farming and livestock production using about 70 percent of the earth’s surface water supplies, but it’s also a serious water polluter. Around the world, agriculture is the leading cause of water degradation. Runoff from feedlot cause surface and groundwater pollution. Agricultural pollution is the top source of contamination in rivers and streams, the second-biggest source in wetlands, and the third main source in lakes. It’s also a major contributor of contamination to estuaries and groundwater. Every time it rains, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste from farms and livestock operations wash nutrients and pathogens, such bacteria and viruses into our waterways. Nutrient pollution, caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water or air, is the number-one threat to water quality worldwide and can cause algal blooms, a toxic soup of blue-green algae that can be harmful to people and wildlife.
Sewage and wastewater
Used water is wastewater. It comes from our sinks, showers, and toilets (think sewage) and from commercial, industrial, and agricultural activities (think metals, solvents, and toxic sludge). The term also includes stormwater runoff, which occurs when rainfall carries road salts, oil, grease, chemicals, and debris from impermeable surfaces into our waterways
More than 80 percent of the world’s wastewater flows back into the environment without being treated or reused, in some least-developed countries, the figure tops 95 percent. In the United States, wastewater treatment facilities process about 34 billion gallons of wastewater per day.
Big spills may dominate headlines, but consumers account for the vast majority of oil pollution in our seas, including oil and gasoline that drips from millions of cars and trucks every day. Moreover, nearly half of the estimated 1 million tons of oil that makes its way into marine environments each year comes not from tanker spills but from land-based sources such as factories, farms, and cities. At sea, tanker spills account for about 10 percent of the oil in waters around the world, while regular operations of the shipping industry—through both legal and illegal discharges—contribute about one-third. Oil is also naturally released from under the ocean floor through fractures known as seeps.
Radioactive waste is any pollution that emits radiation beyond what is naturally released by the environment. It’s generated by uranium mining, nuclear power plants, and the production and testing of military weapons, as well as by universities and hospitals that use radioactive materials for research and medicine. Radioactive waste can persist in the environment for thousands of years, making disposal a major challenge. When radioactive waste is accidentally released or improperly disposed of it contaminants threaten groundwater, surface water, and marine resources.
Water pollution kills. Contaminated water can make you ill. Every year, unsafe water sickens about 1 billion people. And low-income communities are disproportionately at risk because their homes are often closest to the most polluting industries.
Waterborne pathogens, in the form of disease-causing bacteria and viruses from human and animal waste, are a major cause of illness from contaminated drinking water. Diseases spread by unsafe water include cholera, giardia, and typhoid. Even in wealthy nations, accidental or illegal releases from sewage treatment facilities, as well as runoff from farms and urban areas, contribute harmful pathogens to waterways.
Lead, as a wide range of chemical pollutants—from heavy metals such as arsenic and mercury to pesticides and nitrate fertilizers—are getting into our water supplies. Once they’re ingested, these toxins can cause a host of health issues, from cancer to hormone disruption to altered brain function. Children and pregnant women are particularly at risk.
Swimming can pose a risk and cause health issues such as skin rashes, pinkeye, respiratory infections, and hepatitis from sewage-laden coastal waters, according to EPA estimates.
THE EFFECT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
In order to thrive, healthy ecosystems rely on a complex web of animals, plants, bacteria, and fungi—all of which interact, directly or indirectly, with each other. Harm to any of these organisms can create a chain effect, imperiling entire aquatic environments.
When water pollution causes an algal bloom in a lake or marine environment, the proliferation of newly introduced nutrients stimulates plant and algae growth, which in turn reduces oxygen levels in the water. This dearth of oxygen, known as eutrophication, suffocates plants and animals and can create “dead zones,” where waters are essentially devoid of life. In certain cases, these harmful algal blooms can also produce neurotoxins that affect marine wildlife from the biggest animal to the smallest.
Chemicals and heavy metals from industrial and municipal wastewater contaminate waterways as well. These contaminants are toxic to aquatic life—most often reducing an organism’s life span and ability to reproduce—and make their way up the food chain as predator eats prey. That’s how tuna and other big fish accumulate high quantities of toxins, such as mercury. The very reason to stop eating fish and other ocean life.
Marine ecosystems are also threatened by marine debris, which can strangle, suffocate, and starve animals. Much of this solid debris, such as plastic bags and soda cans, gets swept into sewers and storm drains and eventually out to sea, turning our oceans into trash soup and sometimes consolidating to form floating garbage patches. Discarded fishing gear and other types of debris are responsible for harming more than 200 different species of marine life.
Meanwhile, ocean acidification is making it tougher for shellfish and coral to survive. Though they absorb about a quarter of the carbon pollution created each year by burning fossil fuels, oceans are becoming more acidic. This process makes it harder for shellfish and other species to build shells and may impact the nervous systems of sharks, clownfish, and other marine life.
What Can You Do to Prevent Water Pollution?
There are some simple ways you can prevent water contamination or at least limit your contribution to it.
- Reduce your plastic consumption and reuse or recycle plastic when you can.
- Properly dispose of chemical cleaners, oils, and non-biodegradable items to keep them from ending up down the drain or simply choose a product that is non toxic and non harmful to the environment.
- Maintain your car so it doesn’t leak oil, antifreeze, or coolant.
- If you have a yard, consider landscaping that reduces runoff and avoid applying pesticides and herbicides. Choose a more holistic and environmentally friendly way.
It is easy to blame others however cleaning up the environment starts at home and starts with you. We have only one Earth and one Ocean.
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