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POLLUTION PREVENTION
IS EVERYONE'S RESPONSIBILITY

"When the well's dry, we know the worth of water." -Benjamin Franklin, 1746. Water pollution -- an input which upsets the balance of life in an aquatic ecosystem or the quality of groundwater -- can be as natural as storm-water runoff in a wilderness area, or can result from accidental leaks of man-made materials with the potential for harm. Natural inputs, such as eroding soil, animal droppings, and the wide range of substances which can carried in run- off from rain have the potential to create negative water quality effects. So do inputs directly attributable to human activities (sewage, industrial wastes, and other obvious point and nonpoint sources) and indirectly caused by various uses of land (logging, mining, residential development, etc).

Regulations such as the Clean Water Act have been helpful in controlling many of the most obvious large-scale problems; today, diverse nonpoint sources are of increasing concern. In general, water quality in the United States is better than it was twenty years ago, but there is still far more to be done. Just as we have come to realize that high quality water is not something which can be taken for granted, it is time for us to recognize that we as individuals all play a role. Since each and every one of us can affect water quality, we all have an obligation to help keep it clean.

The time has come to align words with actions, to stop finger pointing, and to become accountable for what we do to the environment in our daily lives at work and at home. We all impact water quality in some way, but with a little effort we can each contribute towards getting the problems under control. We can study, join a local watershed group, and learn to look for the biological signs that indicate whether water quality is good (a healthy population of mayflies, for example) or poor (an abundance of black flies and worms). We can talk about such findings with friends and neighbors, sharing the valuable lessons that have been learned. Perhaps simplest of all, we can carry out the suggestions which follow. All are things which require a minimum of effort, which do make a difference, and which each and every one of us can easily do!

Nonpoint source pollution

Decisions people make about garden design and maintainenance can have a tremendous impact upon the amount of water, fertilizers (nutrients), and pesticides used -- and how much erosion occurs. All of these factors can have nonpoint source effects. In this photo, high school students measure run-off generated by different species of grass.

As we have seen in the last several Know Your Environment bulletins, nonpoint source pollution occurs when runoff picks up contaminants and carries them into surface water or groundwater. Since this runoff can come from many places, individual actions can prevent many nonpoint source effects. Here are some of the things you can do:

Water Conservation

Limiting the use of water in day-to-day functions can reduce the demand on water supplies, lessen the burden on wastewater treatment facilities, and decrease the amount of runoff and nonpoint source pollution that occurs. In some countries, households have two separate supply lines: one for drinking water and another for water for non-potable use. In such areas, "recycled" water (treated municipal wastewater) is commonly used for things such as irrigating fields, watering golf courses, and refilling groundwater basins. In the United States, the majority of our water must meet stringent drinking water standards, no matter how it is used. Water may not be expensive here in the U.S., but it is in limited supply. In many parts of the world, water is too precious to waste.

Water monitoring groups across the country not only help state and federal agencies by collecting information, they help create awareness about the individual activities that can affect local rivers and streams.

Conserving water is one of the most significant things which individuals can do, and it can be done in many simple, practical ways:

Water conservation may be necessary in the arid states, but do the rest of us really need to be concerned? The answer is yes for a variety of reasons, including the fact that decreasing per capita use on the clean water end is far less costly than treating ever- increasing quantities of wastewater (due to population growth); wastewater must be treated before it is discharged to rivers and streams.

Trash

The three R's -- reduce, recycle, reuse -- have become far more than just words. They are now in common usage in many parts of the country and the people in many communities are noticing the difference that these simple principles make. You can do your part:

Not only is population growing, each individual requires more energy and material possessions than ever before. At the same time, our supply of resources and ability to deal with waste is becoming more and more limited. Reducing consumption, conserving resources, and reducing the amount of pollution we generate are things each of us can do to stretch what resources we have to help meet future needs. Recycling, composting, and using alternate forms of transportation are simple ways to accomplish these goals.


Environmental protection has come a long way in the past twenty five years, and many regulations have produced significant results. Government and industry have made massive investments to improve the quality of our waterways and the safety of the water we drink. They should be no less vigilant in the future, but the responsibility for further improvement has shifted to the individual: the onus is now upon us. By examining our habits and making simple changes in behavior wherever appropriate, we can all play a part.

Written by: Barry Lewis


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