The Invisible , Creeping Threat

Every other week we read of a new water pollution scandal, often after people fall sick, but sometimes because of large-scale fish die-off or other adverse environmental impacts. Can we turn the tide of growing water pollution around?

Human sources of water degradation include household and industrial waste, agricultural chemicals, and livestock waste, which all end up in water bodies and cause pollution if untreated or not managed appropriately.  As a result of insufficient action or plain inaction, today, approximately 1 in 8 or 650 million people live in areas where water quality risks are high due to elevated levels of biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), and 1/6th and 1/4th of the world’s population lives in river basins where water quality risks are high due to excessive nitrogen and phosphorous loadings.

Increased concentrations of dissolved organic carbon can also create problems in the production of safe drinking water if chlorination is used.  Too much nitrogen and phosphorous in water lead to eutrophication, killing aquatic life by depleting oxygen. The presence of nitrogen-based compounds in drinking water can be harmful to human health. This alarming trend calls for a rethinking of our current development pathway.  Have the global community and key actors woken up to these alarming trends? Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on water includes a specific target for water pollution۔

This said, several solutions exist to address this challenge: governments are called to lead the effort to regulate, monitor and enforce water quality standards, the private sector, city administrations and farmers associations are called to implement their own water quality controls, to help ensure the future of our environment and human health. In agriculture, higher nutrient use efficiency can substantially reduce pollution loads while public and private sector agricultural research into nutrient-use efficiency by crops needs to be strengthened. Farmer associations should provide information and advice to their members for other measures that improve fertilizer management, with practices such as

  • Crop rotations with nitrogen-fixing (cover) crops
  • No-till or reduced tillage and other conservation measures that can dramatically reduce erosion and thus protect water bodies from the adverse effects of P and N runoff
  • Precision agriculture methods.
  • Yield monitors to apply fertilizers where they are needed most or generate the highest yields

o    Replacement of furrow irrigation with drip, which allows direct fertilizer application to the crops and their root systems

Without significant attention to this looming crisis, the future deterioration of water quality poses a major threat to aquatic environments and the people that depend on them.

Water pollution

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The water they say is life, and indeed they were right. With about 70% of the earth’s cover being water, it undeniably becomes one of our greatest resources. As young students, we learned about the various ways to conserve water. Coming  to think of it, water is used in almost every important human chores and process. It is an important element in both domestic as well as industrial purposes. However, a closer inspection of our water resources today, give us a rude shock.

What is water pollution?

Water pollution happens when toxic substances enter water bodies such as lakes, rivers, oceans and so on, getting dissolved in them, lying suspended in the water or depositing on the bed. This degrades the quality of water.

Not only does this spell disaster for aquatic ecosystems, the pollutants also seep through and reach the groundwater, which might end up in our households as the contaminated water we use in our daily activities, including drinking.

Sources and effects of water pollution

Water pollution can be caused in a number of ways, one of the most polluting being city sewage and industrial waste discharge. Indirect sources of water pollution include contaminants that enter the water supply from soils or groundwater systems and from the atmosphere via rain.

Soils and groundwaters contain the residue of human agricultural practices and also improperly disposed of industrial wastes.

What are the major water pollutants?

There are several classes of water pollutants. The first are disease-causing agents. These are bacteria, viruses, protozoa and parasitic worms that enter sewage systems and untreated waste.

The second category of water pollutants is oxygen demanding wastes; wastes that can be decomposed by oxygen-requiring bacteria. When large populations of decomposing bacteria are converting these wastes it can deplete oxygen levels in the water. This causes other organisms in the water, such as fish, to die.
The third class of water pollutants is water-soluble inorganic pollutants, such as acids, salts, and toxic metals. Large quantities of these compounds will make water unfit to drink and will cause the death of aquatic life.
Another class of water pollutants are nutrients; they are water-soluble nitrates and phosphates that cause excessive growth of algae and other water plants, which deplete the water’s oxygen supply. This kills fish and, when found in drinking water, can kill young children.
Water can also be polluted by a number of organic compounds such as oil, plastics, and pesticides, which are harmful to humans and all plants and animals in the water.
A very dangerous category is suspended sediment because it causes depletion in the water’s light absorption and the particles spread dangerous compounds such as pesticides through the water.
Finally, water-soluble radioactive compounds can cause cancer, birth defects, and genetic damage and are thus very dangerous  water pollutants.

Where does water pollution come from?

Water pollution is usually caused by human activities. Different human sources add to the pollution of water. There are two sorts of sources, point, and nonpoint sources. Point sources discharge pollutants at specific locations through pipelines or sewers into the surface water. Nonpoint sources are sources that cannot be traced to a single site of discharge.
Examples of point sources are factories, sewage treatment plants, underground mines, oil wells, oil tankers and agriculture.
Examples of nonpoint sources are acid deposition from the air, traffic, pollutants that are spread through rivers and pollutants that enter the water through groundwater.
Nonpoint pollution is hard to control because the perpetrators cannot be traced.

Conclusion: The current scenario has led to a consciousness about water preservation and efforts are being made on several levels to redeem our water resources. Industries and factory set up’s are restricted from contaminating the water bodies and are advised to treat their contaminated waste through filtration methods. People are investing in rainwater harvesting projects to collect rainwater and preserve it in well below ground level.

Water Pollution is common, and is an area of high alert. Water needs to be preserved and respected today, for us to live a tomorrow.