Is water safe for drinking? Can fish and other aquatic life thrive in streams and lakes that are affected by human activities?
Federal and State standards and guidelines are established to protect water for designated uses such as drinking, recreation, agricultural irrigation, or protection and maintenance of aquatic life. The Federal Clean Water Act states that our waters will be “fishable and swimmable.” This means our waters will be clean enough for aquatic creatures to survive in and clean enough so that people can safely wade and swim. The quality of our rivers and streams directly impacts the quality of our drinking water, whether we draw it from surface waters (rivers or streams) or underground. It’s all connected.
Many people feel that water pollution is an issue, but they do not necessarily know why various pollutants are a problem. Urban and industrial development, farming, mining, combustion of fossil fuels, stream-channel alteration, animal-feeding operations and other human activities can change the quality of streams and lakes, not to mention impact groundwater quality and recharge of our groundwater.
As an example of the effects of human activities on water quality, consider nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers that are applied to lawns and crops. These plant nutrients can be dissolved easily in rainwater or snowmelt runoff. Excess nutrients carried to streams and lakes encourage growth of algae, which leads to low oxygen in the water and increases the possibility of fish kills.
As the diagram below shows, the interconnections among surface water and groundwater are complex. The relationship is influenced by atmospheric contributions, natural landscape features, human activities and aquatic health. The combined, cumulative effects of individual acts over time are also part of that complex equation. Therefore, considering collaborative efforts on a watershed scale can help make a positive impact on our water quality. These efforts include individual, community, regional, and national actions.
Diagram courtesy of http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/waterquality.html