The War on Water Pollution
By: Joshua S.
Water pollution is a menace to all those who use America’s waterways. It diminishes the health of ecosystems and can lead to the deaths of many organisms, and it impacts human health in a number of negative ways. Heavily polluted water can be dangerous to drink, and in extreme cases, hazardous to even touch. It can lead to increased concentrations of pathogens in waterways.
According to a 2013 survey in Minnesota, 416 waterways have levels of E. coli bacteria and other dangerous microbes so high that they are unfit for swimming. Even without germs, heavily polluted water can be dangerous to drink. Also, drinking water with high levels of nitrates, which were found in 27% of monitored rivers in Minnesota in 2013, can cause “blue baby syndrome” in infants, which can be fatal.
Some pollutants can cause the opposite problem. For example, phosphorus is so nutritious for algae that large quantities of it can produce “algal blooms”, concentrations of algae so dense that they block sunlight and drain aquatic ecosystems of their nutrients. Water pollution can have negative ramifications outside of the country as well. Pollutants from the Mississippi river can and will travel to the Gulf of Mexico, where they have already created a dead zone covering thousands of square miles. Currently, water pollution makes many of our rivers and lakes less valuable in many ways. Lastly, people are less likely to enjoy boating, swimming, fishing, and other water-based pastimes when the water is murky, discolored, and possibly toxic.
The Federal Clean Water Act mandates that all fresh water should be “drinkable, fishable, and swimmable”. If our water is generally made to be too toxic for these things, then we are in effect violating an act of the federal government.
Water pollution comes from a wide array of sources. Many of the pollutants in water, such as insecticide that can harm or kill aquatic creatures and fertilizer that can cause algal blooms, are runoff from nearby farmland. Others originate from sewage and industrial byproducts that were dumped into rivers and lakes before regulations were made to prohibit it. Once pollutants get into the water, they take a long time to go away on their own. If we don’t take action to improve our water soon, it will only get worse. If we do take action, our rivers and lakes will be made more hospitable, useful, and picturesque.
Cleaning up America’s vast number of lakes and rivers seems like a daunting task, but there are ways for normal people to help. For instance, people can volunteer to collect data on the status of local bodies of water. This helps to take some of the burdens of surveying off of the government, providing them with useful information without the hassle. We can also curb water pollution by limiting the amount of pollution we produce. When you use fertilizers, pesticides, or other potential pollutants, be mindful that they do not run off into the environment. It is best to reduce the usage of products that could become runoff. Of course, none of these actions actually clean the water, but they are cheap and easy ways to contribute to a greater machine of water protection.
Many people believe that taking part in the process of government is the responsibility of all voters. Regardless, being informed about legislation affecting our waterways is crucial for protecting it. Be sure to vote to ensure that legislation that helps to fight water pollution is passed and that legislation that undermines efforts to fight pollution fails.
Local and State governments across the country are well aware of the problems that water pollution has wrought. They are using a variety of tactics to fight it. For instance, in Minnesota, 80 local governments known as “watershed districts” have been created to better manage major bodies of water and levy taxes to help preserve them. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, 53 of the 80 these watershed districts have programs specifically designed to keep them clean. The programs and the methods they use are too numerous to name. Some regions have received grants from the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources to initiate innovative new projects. For instance, $220,000 was given to the city of Forest Lake to improve street sweepers so that they help to keep phosphorus runoff out of the nearby lakes. Legislation is being passed to protect the water and promote its recovery. Last but not least, they are conducting surveys and raising awareness to rally public support for the cause.
By working together and with cooperative local and state governments, we as Americans have the power to stem the tide of water pollution. With effort, our rivers, lakes, and streams can become pure once again.