Human Impacts on Water Quality

Humans impact the earth both directly and indirectly.  Our mere presence on this planet, or the state of being “alive” and breathing produces carbon dioxide, a known depletory of the ozone.  Industrialization, production, agriculture, land-use practices, hydropower generation, fossil fuel and nuclear power generation, disposal of wastes, and our ever-lasting desire for consumption to obtain more, whether it be material objects or material items, causing devastating impacts to our ecosystems and water sources.  We use water for such tasks as bathing to watering our garden, not to mention that it comprises nearly 70% of our body.  It is for these reasons that we need to take careful steps to reduce negative impacts.   

There are many things we can do in our daily activities to conserve our water supply.  The simplest but the most often forgotten is to NOT WASTE WATER!  If you have a leaky faucet or running toilet, fix it! Brush your teeth with the water off, limit baths taken and shower time, or purchase a showerhead that regulates water flow from the tap. 

Agriculture plays a considerable role in the quality of water.  We need the agricultural industry, to sustain our food supply.  However, the practices used have harmful effects on neighboring watersheds.  Three factors come into play when considering agriculture and human wastes:  Pesticides, fertilizers and the waste produced by our farm animals, and non-existent sewage disposal systems.   Fertilizers are excess nutrients and they are applied to aid growth; pesticides are chemicals to kill or repel pests; and wastes are excess nutrients excreted by farm animals such as nitrogen and phosphorus. When pesticides or fertilizers are applied to crops, there is evident probability that there will be runoff.  The excess materials will either run off the land, or seep into the groundwater, with an eventual ending in bodies of water such as lakes, ponds, or streams.  Fertilizer, pesticides, and excess nutrient wastes by farm animals, and non-existent sewage management plans may contaminate freshwater ecosystems and harm plants, animals, insects, and fish that rely on this freshwater for their habitats.  

We all need nutrients for growth and reproduction.  However, excess nutrients lead to a common problem known as an “algal bloom.”  This causes an overproduction of algae, which limits sunlight reaching lower waters, and reduces dissolved oxygen.  Plants cannot live without sunlight, and as a consequence they will die.  Much aquatic life depends on plants as their food mainstay, so they too will die off.  The reduction of dissolved oxygen occurs as plants die and decay at the bottom of the the water.  Bacteria consume oxygen, which leaves limited amounts for the other present organisms that depend on it, thus killing them off too.  

Another human impact on water quality is the implementation of sewage treatment plants.  Until just recently, sewage treatment plants were not a widespread practice.  At present, there are still many townships and municipalities that have no means of disposing of household waste.  Where does it go?  If you live by a lake or pond, most likely your waste goes into that beautiful body of water that you swim in, or goes into a septic tank that is possibly out of date or not maintained properly.  Waste is excess nutrients.  It has the same effect as fertilizers and animal waste.  However, human waste may contain harmful elements that can cause human disease such as E. coli and ????. 

The mining industry has also impacted the quality of water.  The mining industry had its start back in the mid 1700’s.  In these early days there were no measures employed to protect our environment, so our earth has taken a burden of destruction and bad practices.  The most prevalent impact on water quality has been the discharges from abandoned mines containing heavy metals, sulfates, and acid, all entering our waterways.  The resulting problems include contaminated drinking water, corrosion of road and rail network structures, and disturbed growth of plants and animals trying to live in the tainted water.  If your waterway is contaminated, it will most likely have a red, orange, or yellow tinge of the sediment. 

It is recommended that you follow guidelines or get needed assistance when using fertilizers and pesticides.  There are programs and plans that aid those employed in the agricultural industry to help protect their watersheds.  These include sewage treatment plants, implementation of nutrient management plans, planting forest buffers, stormwater management ponds, or digging of manure pits. 

Everything humans do, even our mere existence, affects the quality of the water on earth.  We should implement practices and policies to preserve the quality of our water, for water is one of the most valuable natural resources left in the world, and we depend on it greatly. 


What is a Watershed, Water Cycle, Habitats, Human Impacts on Water Quality, Global Water Issues, Macroinvertebrates, Geology, Groundwater