What I learned last week: just because water looks fine doesn’t mean you can be thinkin’ everything [is] alright.
I had a blast with water quality testing! Waders are the height of “field chic” and wearing them in water up to my chest was very much a trust exercise. Our class measured nutrient levels (nitrogen, phosphate, dissolved oxygen, and alkalinity) at five sites over two rivers and learned about stream health indicators.
Unsurprisingly, Hawksbill Creek in Shenandoah had lower levels of nitrogen (common sources are fertilizer and agricultural runoff) than Happy Creek which flows through the town of Front Royal. Happy Creek is considered an “impaired” waterway due to its inability to support a variety of aquatic life. I love that we used the citizen science protocol outlined by the Virginia Save Our Streams initiative, a conservation program aimed at monitoring water quality and educating the public on the importance of clean water.
Large industrial and agricultural sites tend to be major contributors to waterway pollution due to massive amounts of chemical and fertilizer runoff. Even if you don’t own a herd of cows or produce textiles in a factory, you still contribute to water pollution!
Here are some ways you can help to keep our water clean (especially because you drink it!):
- Clean up after pets
- Use native plants in your yard. They require little/no maintenance which saves water and fertilizer. *they are also awesome for wildlife/pollinator reasons*
- Never pour chemicals down your drains!!!
- Choosing non-toxic cleaning supplies is always the move
- Look for phosphate-free soap and laundry detergent
- More here!
The effects of polluted water stretch far beyond the banks of a river or lake. Because of the water cycle (que adorable song from 3rd grade), water with excess nitrogen can become air with excess nitrogen- leading to the formation of pollutants such as ammonia and ozone which impair our ability to breath! Contact with toxic algae blooms has been known to cause rashes, stomach aches and some more serious health concerns.
Water pollution also presents economic issues. Fish suffocating in deoxygenated water due to large (sometimes toxic) algae blooms don’t make for a strong fishing industry (the EPA estimates that tens of millions of dollars a year are lost due to nutrient pollution). The tourism industry is highly reliant on the presence of clean water for fishing and recreation activities. Up to one billion dollars are lost annually from polluted water-caused fish deaths, algae blooms, tainted seafood, and haze.
These depressing paragraphs don’t come close to covering the full health, economic, and environmental consequences of nutrient pollution.
Oil leaking from your car?
Non-permeable surfaces around the outside of your home?
Leave the dog poop in the backyard?
Flush trash down the toilet?
Use a sizable lump of fertilizer for your spring plantings?
Bleach is your go-to cleaner?
We are all the problem.
But we can all be the solution.
Our only option is to embrace time and keep moving forward.