Water pollution is a serious and unhappy result of breakneck development in the human realm. Protecting Your Health and the Planet: Water Pollution Part 1, gave you an idea of the enormous scope of the problem. In Part 2, Water Pollution Solutions we hope to provide some answers to these vexing, global problems.
We’re the only ones with the resources to put it right. If only we can develop the will to do so. And hopefully, we’ll find the technology to do it very, very quickly.
We often think of water pollution and waterborne disease as third-world problems. But even in the supposedly “clean” and eco-friendly US, nearly half our freshwater rivers and lakes are too toxic to enjoy. (photo – red tide along Florida’s coast, caused by both natural and man-made causes, including agricultural run-off)
Advocating in Your Community
If you’d like to see a reduction of water pollution, follow up with community initiatives to prevent it escalating from large-scale development and agriculture. Don’t hesitate to question your representatives in all levels of government to determine their stance on regulation and governmental programs for improving water quality.
Wise Land Use Policies
Careful land use policies can help mitigate the problem. That’s an important lesson that the US should have learned during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. In that case, overuse of land resulted in soil erosion so extreme it literally blew away during passing windstorms. In response, then-president Franklin Roosevelt formed the Civilian Conservation Corp and the Prairie States Forestry Project. Using labor form the Works Progress Administration and local farmers, the initiative added 220 million trees, resulting in thousands of miles of plant windbreaks to halt the soil erosion.
In modern times, thoughtful and well-executed soil conservation projects aimed at preventing erosion in the same manner could stem runoff and the resulting pollution of nearby bodies of water.
Planting trees or other carefree vegetation between agricultural land and nearby waterways would prevent soil erosion and runoff of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers.
Careful livestock management would also improve the environment. Allowing for the growth of dense foliage in pastures for cattle grazing has proven to be nearly as beneficial for the nearby water quality as undeveloped woodland.
Over the last century, developers have drained many natural wetlands in order to build communities near bodies of water. These wetlands form a natural barrier between the land and the ocean and contain vegetation that slows soil erosion.
These slow-moving waterways prevent the infiltration of land runoff into lakes and oceans. Roots from the trees prevent soil from washing away during storms and tides. This stabilizes river banks and beaches and provides a buffer zone.
It also provides expanded habitats for wildlife. While wetlands don’t seem ideal for human communities, they are home to many species of birds, small mammals, fish, and reptiles. Restoring our wetlands will also allow endangered plant species to thrive and recover.
Small-scale Actions That Have a Big Impact
You can also personally become involved in reducing water pollution by making a few adjustments in your purchasing and disposal habits. Small actions can have a big impact, and you’ll quickly become accustomed to any extra efforts it may take to prevent further water pollution.
Recycle, Reduce, & Reuse
One personal way you can prevent water pollution is by being more mindful of how you dispose of waste. Plastics are the most problematic, since they don’t break down in the landfill. Even when shredded or chipped, they can cause havoc in the waterways and act as a health risk to wildlife.
Reduce your use of plastics to prevent even more damage from occurring to marine life. A quick survey of the things you use on a daily basis can provide a list of instances where you could easily replace plastic waste.
Along with adding millions of tons of non-biodegradable garbage to our environment, the use of disposable plastic items adds hundreds of dollars to our annual grocery bill. And perhaps, some inches to our waistlines. Here’s a quick list of ideas for limiting use of plastics:
- Purchase foods in bulk with a reusable container
- Eschew soda in plastic bottles in favor of iced tea made at home
- Use a stainless steel safety razor instead of plastic disposable razors
- Skip frozen meals & cook from scratch using fresh ingredients
- Use reusable mugs of coffee or cooler cups for soda
- Choose reusable containers to pack lunches
- Choose products packaged in cardboard or paper over plastic
Most communities provide curbside recycling as part of regular solid waste pickup, so take advantage of it. If your community doesn’t offer this service, start a petition to add it to your services. Some local solid waste centers take plastics and other items for recycling.
For example, many might request that you drop off any electronics waste, including batteries, for proper recycling.
Upcycling is a favorite trend for DIY advocates, and you’ll find dozens of ways to reuse plastic items throughout the home. Here are a few ideas to try when recycling isn’t enough:
- Plastic soda bottles make fantastic plant pots for an indoor herb garden
- Laundry detergent bottles make great sand toys for children
- Reuse plastic grocery bags in small waster paper baskets
- Weave plastic grocery bags into durable baskets for holding things
- Reuse grocery bags by wadding them up for packing material instead of bubble wrap
Safe Disposal of Hazardous Waste
While becoming more familiar with your local solid waste center, find out how to best discard potentially toxic household chemicals. Your county should have procedures in place for disposing of used motor oil, mechanical and pharmaceutical waste. You’ll also find policies for paints, paint thinners, and construction debris.
Proper Disposal of Automotive Waste
Home mechanics should properly dispose of car fluids and auto parts to prevent them from entering the groundwater or nearby waterways. Car batteries, tires, and other automotive parts and fluids should also be disposed of in accordance with your local ordinances.
The lead in batteries is toxic, which contaminate groundwater. If your local auto parts store doesn’t offer a “core refund” on the recyclable parts of the battery, make sure you take them to your local recycling center.
Your county may also permit you to dispose of a limited number of tires. If not, most tire stores will take them off your hands for a small fee.
To remove oil and antifreeze spills from driveways, cover them with cat litter or baking soda to absorb them. Then remove the litter and drop it off with other hazardous waste at your local collection center.
Beach & Waterway Clean Up
If you enjoy a day of kayaking or a lounge on the beach, take a day to join a cleanup crew in your local area. You’ll find a number of opportunities near you, as well as some through national organizations
Coastal Cleanup Day is a worldwide phenomenon held every year where millions of volunteers work together to gather trash on beaches, rivers, and lakes. Find the nearest cleanup location at the Ocean Conservancy website.
Eat Organically Grown & Sustainable Foods
By choosing organically grown foods or organically fed meat, you’ll have a serious impact on the number of pesticides and other agricultural chemicals used. First of all, you will support organic farmers and free-ange ranchers with your hard-earned dollars. This will help them continue their efforts in responsible land management. You’ll also help send a message to those still utilizing chemical sprays or raising grain-fed cattle instead of using a managed pasture system.
Control Urban Runoff From Your Property
In high-density areas of human population such as cities and suburbs, so much of the ground is covered by concrete that rainwater isn’t able to soak in. Developed areas rely on storm drains to remove excess water and prevent building and streets from flooding.
Unfortunately, this rain runoff carries a host of water pollutants like lawn fertilizers, motor oil, and other chemicals. These end up in whatever natural waterway storm drains empty into, complete with the debris of modern life.
Road salt, pet waste, seepage from garbage dumps and junkyards all can end up in the local water supply.
Along with supporting responsible city managers, you can reduce urban runoff by using lawn and garden chemicals sparingly. Use biodegradable pesticides, like neem oil, and organic fertilizers, like fish emulsion to boost your vegetable garden output. Xeriscaping, if appropriate, will reduce your use of chemicals altogether, while reducing the frequency you would generally need to water a grass lawn.
Ensure that you clean up all auto fluid spills and dispose of hazardous materials quickly and effectively. Pick up the poop after your pets; you can even compost it for non-edible landscaping plants.
It’s Up to All of Us
Water once seemed a resource we could never exhaust. And although the planet remains covered with oceans, we are indeed running low on usable water that’s safe to drink and bathe in. Our food supply is also threatened by debris, chemicals, and even an abundance of algae.
Despite the fact that water seems endless, natural changes in geography and man-made changes in climate mean it’s harder to control.
These changes mean it’s more challenging to ensure that everyone has access to safe water in their local area. Especially considering the broad range of contaminants and factors in water pollution.
Humans have made a habit of using up every resource on the earth until it’s exhausted, and hopefully, we’ve learned a few lessons in the last 200 years. In order to continue to enjoy our modern conveniences, we need to become better stewards of the natural world.
We hope this article has offered you a few ideas on how water pollution can affect the health of you and your family. We also hope that it’s given you few ideas on how you can lend a hand to help protect and restore our waterways to their pristine beginnings.
By Jon Godfrey
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