National Water Quality Month

August is National Water Quality Month

National Water Quality Month is dedicated to making the most of the relatively small amount of fresh water we have, because having clean water is vital to our individual health, our collective agricultural needs, and the needs of our environment.

What is the Purpose of National Water Quality Month?

Just try to imagine what life would be like without easy access to clean water. There would be no fountains to quench your thirst when you’re out on a hot day. No more pools, and no more lakes and rivers clean enough for recreational activities. No more hour long showers. No more drinking water straight from the tap, or even filtering it through your Brita. No more running water in your house, period. In short, our lives would be totally different, and not for the better.

National Water quality month reminds us to take a moment to consider how important these water sources are not just to humans, but also to the other inhabitants of these ecosystems— whether it be the fish that live in the waters or the plants and animals that rely on these lakes and rivers for water just like we do. By thinking about the little things that you do on a daily basis that could have a negative effect on water quality, you’ll be one step closer to making a difference.

There are easily thousands of factors that can have a negative impact on the quality of your local water sources ranging from industrial pollutants like metal particulate, oils, and other chemicals to the pesticides we use in our own backyards.

How Did National Water Quality Month Start?

The history of National Water Quality Month originally dates back to two US congressional acts that were passed in the early 1970s in an effort to protect our water sources. Starting with the Clean Water Act that was passed in 1972, the federal government began taking steps to curb water pollution by making it illegal to dump high amounts of toxic materials into bodies of water. This set the standard for making sure that surface water was up to certain standards before being used for human consumption and recreation. In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed to further protect the quality of groundwater and public water systems. 

From there, National Water Quality Month was founded in 2005 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and backed by the United Nations in an effort to promote civic discourse about how to conserve our natural water sources by starting conversations on what we can do in our own households and communities to ensure that we all have access to safe, clean drinking water for generations to come. What’s better than water?

Since there are a limited amount of sources we get our water from, and we have yet to find a way to manufacture water, it’s vitally important to protect these sources.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Clean Water Act (CWA), and the water utility companies themselves all play a part in making sure that the water that comes from our taps is always safe for use.

Why is Water Quality Important?

Why is Water Quality Important?

Liquid water is what makes earth so unique and virtually everything on our planet relies on it. Unfortunately, having high quality, unpolluted water is constantly taken for granted, especially by developed countries. In the US, we use water for everything from drinking to recreation without thinking twice about it, but what most Americans don’t realize is that not all water is created equal and having immediate access to clean water is a privilege, not a right.

 It’s been reported that today, “207 of our 397 national parks — 52 percent — have waterways that are considered “impaired” under the Clean Water Act, meaning they do not meet appropriate water quality standards.” 

The National Parks Conservation Association

Moreover, large swathes of our oceans are becoming dead zones due to eutrophication caused by fertilizer runoff, and freshwater clean enough for consumption is becoming harder and harder to come by worldwide.

This has become such an issue that the United Nations recently declared it an ongoing global crisis with the potential to upend existence as we know it in as little as a decade.

When it comes down to it, global water scarcity is by and large the product of the massive population growth that has been taking place over the last century. With more people comes more demand for water to consume and to grow crops and livestock with. 

Ironically, even though water makes up over 70% of Earth’s surface area, the total amount of freshwater found on Earth only makes up around 3% of the water supply, 1% of which is easily accessible. This 1% accounts for all of our lakes, rivers, groundwater, aquifers, and streams. With this in mind, one can imagine that sustaining the needs of over 7 billion people on earth is no easy task.

What Causes Poor Water Quality?

What Causes Poor Water Quality?

There are 4 major sources of freshwater pollution:

Dumping industrial effluents

When companies that own manufacturing factories don’t uphold strict policies for their disposal of industrial effluents, they are effectively polluting their local waterways.

Agricultural runoff

Fertilizer runoff from commercial farms into the waters cause excess algae growth which suffocates fish and other aquatic life. 

Leakage of untreated waste

Without regular maintenance, public infrastructure like our sewage systems fall into states of disrepair, letting untreated or inadequately treated municipal sewage leak into our groundwater and surface water, especially in developing countries. 

Products and chemicals used at home

Common household chemicals can have a big impact on public water supplies. Even the pesticides that we use on our backyards, outdoor recreation centers, and golf courses pose a serious threat of contamination to our lakes, rivers, and aquifers. Swimming pool chemicals, particularly chlorine, causes a lot of damage. 

Where Do We Get Our Water?

By getting more acquainted with where our water comes from, you can figure out where and how your local community gets their water.

Ground water 

This encompasses all of the aquifers and other sources of water buried underground. Scientists estimate that this makes up ~ 1% of our total usable water.

Surface water 

Surface water includes all of the water found in our lakes, rivers, and other terrestrial sources. 

Remember, discovering the source of drinking water is just the beginning, in order to learn more about the water that comes out of your faucet specifically, you’ll want to read through your local water quality report. Most cities offer a general report on their official website that should be updated annually.

How to Celebrate Water Quality Month

Fortunately for us, there is still time and plenty of ways to keep our waters clean, all of which start with being mindful of the possible effects our activities might have our environment.

Knowing where your water comes from makes it easier to appreciate the quality of your local waterways, and can motivate you and your community to keep these water sources as clean as possible.

By incorporating any or all of the following actions into your life, you can rest easy knowing that you’re helping to ensure that clean drinking water is readily available for everyone for years to come!

5 Things Your Community Can Do During Water Quality Month

  1. Organize stream cleanups
  2. Plant trees to prevent erosion
  3. Monitor water quality
  4. Adopt a watershed
  5. Start a monthly beach cleaning club

9 Things You Can Do at Home to Protect Your Water

1. Wash your car at a car wash: Even though it might cost more than washing your car at home, taking your car to a car wash saves water and prevents toxic chemicals from being flushed down your storm drains that eventually empty into our lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans Professional car washes are legally required to drain into sewer systems so that the water can be treated before being re-used.

2. Pick up after your pet: Animal waste is full of nitrogen which can remove oxygen from the water leaving it completely unusable for aquatic life.

3. Don’t hose down your driveway, use a broom.

4. Don’t use fertilizer made with phosphorus: After heavy rainfall or watering, these chemicals can leak into nearby groundwater sources. Try using organic materials or waiting for drier weather if you absolutely need to use lawn care products.

5. Do not flush expired or unwanted medication down the toilet: These products have toxic chemicals that should not be flushed down the drain.

6. Learn how to properly dispose of leftover paint: Even house paint thrown in the trash can impact local water.

7. Take used oil or antifreeze to a service station or recycling center.

8. Avoid using antibacterial soaps or cleaning products in your drain as they are also toxic to marine life.

9. Use a rain barrel to collect rainwater: Installing a rain barrel will not only save you money, but can also be used for watering your lawn or washing your car.

Be sure to also test your water quality at home. Even if your city has great water quality, issues with your home plumbing system can still damage the quality of your drinking water and your appliances. For example, older pipes can corrode over time and leech chemicals into your water supply, or contribute to drain clogs.