The freshwater required for growing food and livestock is also in great demand by the large numbers of people living in the world’s cities and towns. Even though our planet is so rich with water that it appears blue from space, most of this water is salty, making it unusable for these purposes. The limited supply of freshwater needed to support life on this planet are being severely reduced by more than just the consumption by its people, plants and animals. The water that is used to keep the crops healthy becomes filled with fertilizer, weed killer and insecticides before it rejoins rivers and streams. The factories are also continuously dumping harmful wastes into the waters. There has been an effort by legislators to clean up the waterways, but laws only work as long as individuals adhere to them. According to a 1997 Environmental Protection Agency study, approximately 40 percent of the world’s rivers and lakes are not safe for swimming or fishing. This danger is the result of numerous contributors to pollution including dumping, over-consumption and non-point pollution.
Dumping is a major contributor to water pollution in all parts of the world. This can include industrial waste, human domestic waste and agricultural waste. Research by Ma, Ding, Wei, Zhao and Huang has shown that this kind of waste has had a profound impact on China’s water supplies as the industrial waste from the cities flow downstream to be joined by the domestic waste of the villages and the agricultural waste of the farms. All this waste contributes to what are known as ‘dead zones’ at the river mouths where the freshwater is no longer able to sustain life because it is so full of toxins and the ocean water is also no longer able to sustain life because it is depleted of oxygen from these same waste products.
The problems of dumping also focus attention on the world population’s tendency to over-consume the freshwater that we do have. In many cases, the same river is expected to water the wild areas it passes through, provide electricity to cities it comes near, provide fresh drinking water, irrigate farms, clear away industrial waste from the city, clean city streets of whatever exists in them and give villages the water they need for domestic use and cleaning. At the same time, it is expected to always look pretty and provide a safe place for swimming and fishing. This is more than a single river can do as is reported by the Federal Interagency Stream Restoration Working Group (FISWRG) (1998). More needs to be done to properly assess what we are expecting out of our rivers and streams and to determine which of the uses are sustainable and which need to find other means of addressing the issues involved, such as reducing or reusing waste rather than simply dumping it in the closest waterway.
Even with the strictest regulations, though, some dumping is inevitable through the process of non-point pollution. Non-point pollution is pollution that makes its way into the water supply through unknown distribution patterns such as erosion of farm materials far away, washing of dripped oil from city streets and the decay of materials in out of the way, unspecified locations such as the rotting car in some backwoods front yard. Non-point pollution has been an unregulated problem for many countries for a long time, but no real solutions have been devised because it is impossible to regulate something when you don’t know its origin. Although the Environmental Protection Agency continues to do what it can to regulate and monitor the pollution that enters the freshwater supply, even they admit there isn’t much they can do about this particular aspect of the issue (2009).
Water pollution is a problem that we need to face because it has a serious impact on how, or even if, we are able to live on this planet. With no where else to go and no water found on any of the other planets nearby, it is important that we protect the resources we have. We may not feel as if we have much control if we are not the managers of large corporations, but each one of us can do something to stop water pollution even if its just buying environmentally friendly products at the store or not throwing our trash into the river after our picnic is over.
Federal Interagency Stream Restoration Working Group (FISWRG). “Stream Corridor Restoration: Principles, Processes and Practices.” 1998. GPO Item No. 0120-A; SuDocs No. A 57.6/2:EN3/PT.653.
Ma, Jinzhu; Zhenyu Ding; Guoziao Wei; Hua Zhao & Tianming Huang. “Sources of Water Pollution and Evolution of Water Quality in the Wuwei Basin of Shiyang River, Northwest China.” Journal of Environmental Management. Vol. 90, I. 2, (2009): 1168-1177.
“Water Pollution.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2009).