As long as humans have walked this planet, water has shaped our lives: growing our crops, generating power and sustaining life. With water resources scarce, it’s never been more important to keep those resources clean; and clean water is essential for hygiene, recreation and hydration.
Oceans – With beaches littered with paper, plastic and cans, we place millions of birds, fish and marine mammals in danger. Sea turtles, for example, eat piece of plastic wrap thinking its jellyfish. People and animals can be hurt by broken glass and made sick by toxic chemicals.
With the problems caused by nutrient enrichment and toxic contaminants, pollution has contributed to beach closures, fish kills and fish advisories that are also impacting our economic and environmental interests. Illnesses caused by contamination of water systems include diarrhea, hepatitis A, meningitis, and ulcers, to name a few.
Freshwater lakes, rivers and streams – Less than 1% of the earth’s water is accessible freshwater, including groundwater and surface water. In the U.S. alone, over 44 billion gallons of clean water are treated and delivered each day from rivers and lakes, with the average American using 80-100 gallons of water a day. With available freshwater being contaminated with sulfuric acid, fertilizer and gasoline, the limited supply continues to dwindle, as the human population of the world increases. Precipitation might clean surfaces of contaminants, but those contaminants then gets carried into rivers, lakes, streams, groundwater and even oceans.
Groundwater – Groundwater supplies between 25% and 40% of our drinking water, feeding water that flows into streams, lakes and reservoirs. Groundwater pollution can be very expensive to clean up, while depleting out supply of drinkable water.
Surface water – Most people in the U.S. get drinking water from surface water, with a third of the population obtaining water from headwater streams. Protection of these headwater streams are also important because they feed into larger systems of surface water.
According to the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), 2 million tons of sewage and other effluent drains into the world’s water, with more people dying from unsafe water than violence and war; and 90% of the 30,000 deaths a week from unsafe water are children under 5. According to UNDESA, eutrophication due to agricultural runoff (pesticides, chemical fertilizer) and the burning of fossil fuels, in addition to sewage and industrial effluents, is the most prevalent water quality problem on Earth. According to the EPA, 40% of all waterways in the U.S. don’t even meet national water quality standards. And the untreated sewage leaking into our waterways can cost upwards of over $50 to clean-up.
The scarcity of a vital resource like clean water, due to over-use, climate and pollution, has increased concerns about water quality and quantity. A greater awareness of the importance of clean water for all plants and animals, with increased demands for food and energy, should help remind us how to better care for our resources for a healthy people and healthy environment.