Water can be considered one of the most vital resources in the planet because of its benefits to every aspect of life. Aside from being used for drinking, water ensures that life is continously sustained around the planet. However, as mankind continues to grow, supplies of critical resources like water are slowly drying out due to various causes. While a majority could argue that it is due to the changing climates causing extreme heat, there are others saying that the reducing supply for water is because of pollution. For countries like the United States, issues regarding water supply and pollution have met some attention but there is a question as to how dangerous water pollution is to a country such as the US. Water pollution in the United States should be taken seriously as there is a high likelihood that the country would slowly lose not just safe drinking water and its rich biodiversity, but also trigger the onset of epidemics and erratic weather patterns that would make it difficult for people to live in the country.
In the United States, water is a very limited resource due to the vast expanse of land the country covers. According to the United States Geological Survey, the United States has a total water area of 685,924 square kilometers or 7.0% of the entire country. Alaska has the highest water area percentage with 245,383 square kilometers, followed by Michigan with 104,052 square kilometers of water. As of 2005, the country uses roughly 410 billion gallons of water per day for thermoelectric power, irrigation and daily use. Most of these gallons of water are directed in the Western region because of the fields in the region. Private and public owned water source suppliers supply 86% Americans while the rest get their water sources from domestic wells fit for human consumption and other daily use. In order to ensure continous water supply around the country, two percent of the country’s electricity is used to treat waste water and get supply from grondwater wells around the country. Coummunity water systems are also designed to treat waste water and treat them for consumption. At least 91% of the country’s community water systems has the capacity to disinfect water, 23% could remove iron, 13% can remove manganese while 21% of them can also remove potential corrosion .
Although the country’s water systems are indeed capable of sustaining the country and its water demand, reports have been filing in around the country regarding water pollution and subsequent water shortages. In a report by USA Today, four states – Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and West Virginia – have confirmed that they are now experiencing heavy water pollution in many of their water supplies due to the onset of oil or gas drilling in their areas. In Pennsylvania, at least 398 people have complained in 2013 alone regarding the impact of drilling in the area because of the confirmed contamination of many private wells in the area. Some areas of the state also reported shortened water flow and the presence of stray gas in some supplies. Ohio, on their end, had 37 complains in 2010 but constantly increased each year and some of the reports in the area were mostly directed to fracking. Texas had the highest complaint records on water pollution as 2,000 complaints were reported and 62 were due to contamination from oil and gas activity .
Aside from deep wells being contaminated due to fracking and oil drilling, wastewater and agricultural runoffs are also causing heavy water pollution to the country’s fresh water resources. In one analysis, there are now high concentrations of salt in many lakes, streams and rivers around the country due to the onset of pollution in these areas. The study pointed out that these salt content is caused by fertilizer, stormwater runoffs and urban waste as these materials contain high amounts of sodium, sulfate, magnesium and chloride. Although the salinity of freshwater sources mostly comes from natural sources, ihe percentage of manmade salinity factors continue to increase and cause further trouble due to the combination of all types of chemicals coming from waste products. Farms are also contributing to the onset of water pollution in the country as green algae are now becoming prominent in lakes and beaches. These poisonous algae are caused by the increase in phosphorous and nitrogen coming from livestock manure and fertilizer that spills away from farms due to rain .
With the extent of water pollution around the country, it has already caused several complications for many states and their citizens. Several studies have already been conducted in recent years showing that almost 20% of the country’s water treatement facilities have failed to adhere to the country’s Safe Drinking Water Act. In one stud, 49 million people are reported to be drinking untreated water since 2004 with high concentrations of chemicals like arsenic and uranium. Although the study varied as to how often American citizens in areas where contamination is recorded, the risk it poses is very severe. In some areas, the problem on contamination has been going on for years without the public realizing that they are drinking contaminated water. Due to this contamination, there is a high risk that citizens would become vulnerable to waterborne illnesses, especially the sensitive population: children, elderly, chronically ill and pregnant women. Several studies have indicated that these sensitive subpopulations have a higher mortality and morbidity rate especially if they would be exposed to contaminated drinking water. At least 50% would be at risk from dying from diarrhea as compared to the 5% morbidity possibility for those ages 5 and 24 years old. Aside from diarrhea, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer can also be developed from drinking contaminated drinking water. Even if the contaminated drinking water is not consumed, it still has the capacity to transmit diseases through commerce and travel as some of these water sources can be distributed to other areas. In addition to these contaminated drinking water, the high level of algae in many freshwater basins such as in Iowa have caused many businesses depending on water recreational activities to close down and others reported that the taint has already killed some civilians. The first casualty reported to have died due to the water contamination brought by toxic algae was in 2002 when a 17 year old dived into an algae-rich pond at a golf course in Dane County, Wisconsin .
In addition to the health complications brought by water pollution, it also has the capacity to affect food production and resources. Water pollution can easily disrupt biodiversity as the high concentrations of bacteria and other microorganisms dangerous to plants and animals can influence the stability of the area. If one specie is affected by water contamination, plants are likely to grow less by 5 to 10 percent and trigger a domino effect which would increase the concentration of CO2 emissions in the environment and reduce warm temperatures. Many animals are also moving to higher ground to find cleaner water sources, affecting their eating and migration patterns that heavily depend on water availability. Some crop producers are also having problems getting enough clean water supply to sustain their production. Since some farms would need to buy from expensive water suppliers, the price for these goods has already skyrocketted from their usual prices. Further problems are also seen on food production in terms of how much mineral content are in these plants and animals.
In some areas where high salinity content is recorded such as in the city of El Paso, additional infrastructures had to be created to desalinize ground water. However, as the years progress, these plants may not be able ot sustain the demand for clean water and desalination technologies can be very expensive for communities to run. The desalination process also requires quite a lot of electricity to work, which may be detrimental for water prices which may increase each year. High salinic content in water resources can be detrimental for plant growth especially once irrigated for crop production. Excess salts can hinder plant roots from getting water from soil, which would prevent water from being seeped in the plant to give it life. Without the necessary water content, plant stress would become common for crops and prevent them from growing. Soil structures can easily crumble due to high salinic content as it would prevent root grwoth by binding the fine particles together and prevent the soil pores to develop for plants to use. As these high salinic soil continues to get wet and dried repeatedly, it would solidify and prevent further planting to occur in the area .
Finally, erratic weather patterns have also been recorded around the country as an impact of water pollution. Drought and heatwaves have become common in many US states due to water pollution, especially in California where rain remains to be scarce. Analysts have suggested that temperatures can reach up to 100F in many parts of the country and can leave the country uninahibitable for all – including humans. As a result of these high temperatures, it would become difficult to get food and live in a particular area. States like West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware have already reported the onset of very severe heat waves each year, which weren’t originally common in their districts. The onset of global warming triggered by pollution has also caused heavy flooding in many parts of Alaska, while others are displaced because of the increasing water levels At least 100 million Americans in coastal areas are now displaced due to the sea level increases like in Boston and New York. A 2009 report of the US Geological Survey also indicated that further displacement is likely in the mid-Atlantic due to the continous sea level increase and affect the environment entirely. Flood water also distributes pollution throughout the affected area, causing further issues on health and safety for many Americans .
In response to the growing complications brought in by water pollution, the country is actively enacting several policies and programs to save water systems in the country. Since 1886, the country already had federal water legislation starting from the River and Harbor Act of 1886 designed to maintain rivers are harbors free from any contamination. As the growth of pollution became prominent in the mid-1900s due to industrialization and development, the Congress enacted the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to restore water quality and ensure that water pollution would be prevented. The first version of the act was passed in 1948 and amended several times throughout the years to ensure that law enforcement provisions would be strengthened to meet the goals of the Act to ensure clean water quality. Amendments such as the Clean Water Restoration Act of 1966, for example, included a provision of a $100 fine per day for each polluter who fail to submit their reports to the government. The Environment Protection Agency currently handles the authority to enact the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA) in 1972 after several complications brought by the amendments showed the necessity to reorganize many agencies to enact several operations for water pollution control. It became difficult for the government to keep up with the operations for environmental protection as many agencies were needed to fulfill the Act.
The various state governments are also adhering to the Water Quality Standards and Implementation Plans set by the FWPCA to ensure that water quality standards are maintained in all interstate and intrastate water sources. State standards include water use classifications: from recreation to agricultural uses and each classification has their own water quality standards and plans to maintain these standards are required before they are permitted to work in the interstate water areas. This is to ensure that water quality despite these programs and activities in the state’s water sources are maintained to acceptable levels and make it easier for monitoring people to investigate. The EPA has the power to reject or revise State standards should they fail the EPA standing and which technologies would be permitted to use to ensure that water quality is protected. States are also required under the current water quality standards to set a limit as to how much pollutants per day could be discharged in water sources that would still permit fish and wildlife propagation. The current water policies in the country also allows the public to reach to the government for any complaints against polluters and even file a case against the EPA Administrator if they fail to uphold the policies under the FWPCA.
Aside from the FWPCA, the government also other policies and programs to ensure water pollution can be prevented. The Water Resources Planning Act, for example, would ensure that the EPA has a voice in the Water Resources Council. The Council tackles programs and provides assessments with regards to the efforts in restoring regional and river basins around the country. The Appalachian Regional Development Plan, on its end, would provide grants for the creation of sewage treatment plants in the region without worrying about the FWPCA or State protocols. The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972 would ensure that ocean dumping would be regulated and ensure that no chemical or material that is harmful to human health or the marine environment would be dumped. The EPA is also working closely with other agencies such as the Department of Transportation to enforce the Ports and Waterways Safety Act of 1972 which would ensure that vessels would not affect the marine environment .
As societies around the globe continue to develop, the demand for water would continue to increase despite the limited supply of usable water. This fact is true in the United States as the country continues to grow in every level and modernization persists. With the vast expanse of the United States, the necessity of water should also be seen as a priority. While it is true that there are now ways to clean out waste water and steps to ensure that bodies of water around the country or around the world are rehabilitated, pollution of any variety would still persist if nothing is done to correct current practices that causes water pollution in the first place. For government policies and programs to work, the entire country must cooperate to preserve these water sources and restore them for the future generation. If action is not done, there is a high likelihood America would slowly become barren due to the land’s incapacity to sustain life with the presence of contaminated water.
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