Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Runoff in Our Rivers

Polluted runoff is considered by the EPA as the single greatest threat to water quality.  But, what exactly is runoff?  How does runoff get polluted?  And, what can we do about it?

When it precipitates, some water does not soak into the Earth or evaporate back into the clouds.  This water becomes runoff.  It lands on rooftops, roads, or anywhere, and runs into the ditches, tributaries, and creeks, and then eventually into the river.  Along the way this runoff is collecting whatever contaminates and pollutants that we humans dump onto the ground (intentionally or not.)

Excess water was a vital part of the ecosystem before man decided it was a good idea to pave everything and completely change the landscape.  Trees were around to help break the momentum of this water, helping to slow the erosion process.  Today, many of those trees are gone in areas and this water is now eroding the banks of the rivers faster than ever. Before the funneling of this water into the river by roads and ditches, runoff would flow over rocks and through grass.  This allowed for filtering before it reached the creeks that eventually fed into the river.  Now, this runoff collects contaminants such as oil and fertilizer from our streets and yards, and carries these things down to our rivers.

As we all know, pollution of our freshwater sources is a growing problem.  Contaminated runoff is a large contributor to this pollution.  The most common pollutants in our freshwater sources are petroleum products, insecticides, herbicides, and fertilizers; all of which are carried into our rivers by runoff.  These contaminants lead not only to toxic drinking water, but to fish kills, impacts on the spawning process, and even the gender of fish.

What can we do about it?  Well for starters, the most common form of water pollution in the United States is nitrogen and phosphorous.  Basically these are fertilizers used by industrial farms.  So cutting back on the use of these would go a long way to helping the water pollution issue in the United States.  There are other ways that large industrial farms pollute the waters as well.  Animal waste, that is stored in large "lagoons" often overflow in storms and run off into rivers and lakes, even antibiotics and hormones that are given to animals can pollute the waters.  Up to 75% of the antibiotics given to animals are excreted, and eventually become runoff and pollute our drinking water.  According to the EPA, agricultural activity is a source of 48% of our river water pollution and 41% of our lake water pollution. 

To help this, support smaller local and organic farms and ranches!!!  This will help your local economy as well as help protect our waters for the animals that use it and for us to drink.

Other major sources of pollution in our water include chemical fertilizers for your lawn, oil and other petroleum products from your car, mining operations, pharmaceuticals (yes the medicines that you take), personal care and cleaning products, air pollutants (get picked up by precipitation and dropped into our water), and yes your sewage.

So, be conscious of your choices.  Choose a grass for your lawn that is native and will do well in your area without the use of fertilizer.  Make sure your car is not leaking oil or emitting too many toxins (or try walking or riding your bike to get around), fish from a kayak not a power boat, choose the companies you buy your goods from wisely, be healthy by eating healthy and working out (don't rely on the 10 different "magic" pills you take), and be mindful when choosing shower products and cleaning products.  Select organic products when possible, and use them properly.  Do a little research on the products you buy and the way you live.  All of these things will help us all out in the long run.  Try and take care of our earth, and it will take care of you.

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