Did you know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently implemented a three-year action plan to study how climate patterns, biological and chemical contaminants, and an aging water infrastructure threaten the availability and quality of our nation’s water supply?
It’s one of the EPA’s largest initiatives since its founding 50 years ago. Water quality affects us all – our health, our family and our ability to grow fresh foods. Water pollutants are more prevalent than ever.
In fact, the Government Accountability Office reports that pollution in our waterways is one of the greatest challenges we face. There are nearly 70,000 bodies of water nationwide that do not meet water quality standards. In addition to these water sources, many households rely on groundwater to supply their taps. According to the National Groundwater Association, “of all the freshwater in the world (excluding polar ice caps), 95 percent is groundwater.” Groundwater can also be susceptible to pollution, often in the form of bacteria and harmful minerals or organics.
Yet these statistics pave the way for progress. Companies and services, like Watercheck™, are committed to working with government organizations and private homeowners to assure water pollution doesn’t affect the quality of our drinking water.
Here are some of the different types of water pollution that exist, and what you can do about them:
Threat Level: Medium, but growing
What it is: Household and farming chemicals – typically pesticides and fertilizer – are washed away from fields and yards and into nearby waterways, making agricultural activity a major source of water pollution.
Why it matters: Chemical runoff adds nitrates to water, which can cause health issues and breathing difficulty in young children. According to the Government Accountability Office, runoff from farms, parking lots, or streets is the leading cause of groundwater pollution and pollution of the nation’s waterways. A 2010 study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that, “nitrates were too high in 64 percent of shallow monitoring wells in agricultural and urban areas,” emphasizing the significant impact of agricultural activity on water bodies.
What you can do: If you’re using chemical fertilizers in your yard, make sure to apply them at a time when heavy rains won’t wash them away. Also, be sure to test your water for nitrates, especially if your family is on a well system.
Threat Level: High
What it is: Bacteria, viruses and parasites can contaminate water from sewage and animal waste.
Why it matters: Heavy rains can overwhelm aging storm drainage systems, leading to sewage backups in waterways that are located near water treatment plants, resulting in water contamination. These plants are often close to a natural water source. With today’s changing climate, heavy rain events are more common than ever. Microbiological water pollution can lead to waterborne pathogenic diseases like cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis.
What you can do: If you walk your pet, be sure to dispose of animal fecal waste appropriately to prevent contamination of water bodies. You can check on the status of the water at your local water provider’s treatment plant utilizing tools provided through the EPA. You can also test the water coming out of your tap. Just be sure to utilize a test kit that covers all the necessary tests to ensure your safety.
Threat Level: High
What it is: Fertilizer and detergent runoff enter the water supply and warm up -- leading to algal blooms. These can contain toxins like cyanobacteria and microcystis that deplete oxygen from the water.
Why it matters: Exposure to these algal bloom toxins can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and other gastrointestinal issues.
What you can do: Combating nutrient pollution comes down to reducing your dependency on fertilizer. You can also support local agriculture, which often travels shorter distances from field to table, thereby requiring less chemicals for growth.
Threat Level: Medium, but growing
What it is: Sediments, debris, and microplastics physically pollute water sources, posing a risk to aquatic ecosystems.
Why it matters: When microplastics enter waterways, they can be ingested by aquatic life, including the fish we eat.
What you can do: Little changes can add up. Bring a reusable bag for grocery trips and avoid single-use plastics. When disposing of plastic, make sure to recycle it whenever possible to protect aquatic ecosystems and the common types of marine life that inhabit them.
Threat Level: Medium
What it is: Thermal pollution happens when the water temperature in a waterway rises rapidly and beyond safe levels. It’s caused by the heated discharge from industrial facilities, but it can also be the result of a natural event – like a wildfire, amplifying the effects of water pollution resulting from human activities.
Why it matters: It can kill or disrupt the migration patterns of aquatic animals. This can cause issues for other creatures that depend on those animals and aquatic plants for food. The effects of water pollution, exacerbated by human activities, can have cascading impacts on the entire ecosystem.
What you can do: Advocate for responsible industrial practices and temperature regulation.
Can Water Testing Help You Avoid Water Pollution?
Having your business or home’s drinking water tested can help you determine if sources of water pollution are present or rising in your system. Depending on where your water originates, there are different things you should consider. If you have a private water well, there is no regulation by the government, meaning you are responsible for ensuring the water is safe to drink. If you have city water, your water is treated and tested regularly at the water treatment plant. However, water can become contaminated as it leaves the facility, travels through old pipes, and into your home. Testing is easy to do, and FDA-approved testing is some of the most stringent available. Testing can be a vital tool to help prevent both short-term illnesses and long-term health issues, such as waterborne diseases, that can affect development, growth, and overall wellness. Regular testing is crucial to identify harmful chemicals and common sources of contaminated water, ensuring access to clean water and minimizing the risk of waterborne diseases.
Watercheck is here to help too. Learn more about water supply quality and integrity at Watercheck's website.