Water Pollution as it Stands Today in the US

Water Pollution as it Stands Today in the US

by Sarah Grace Ward

Sarah Grace is a student at Unity College working towards her Masters in Public Science in Wildlife Conservation and Management. She has a particular interest in how ethics and political systems connect to and shape the environmental movement. Each week in February, Sarah Grace will spotlight a different topic in pursuit of her capstone project. Please fill out survey questions to help her research and development.

As a thank you for participating, Happy Earth will be providing 25pts for each week's survey submission!



What do eight glasses each day and 71% of the Earth have in common? Water. Water is at the forefront of a person’s day and a major contributor to most ecosystems. However, as agriculture, industry, and human activity has increased, so has water pollution. Water is essential for drinking, cleaning, cooking, swimming, and industrial uses. Therefore, good water quality should be a top priority for not only the Environmental Protection Agency, but also for each individual and community.

Water pollution is defined as the contamination of water by pollutants resulting in water being unusable for drinking, cooking, cleaning, swimming, or other activities. Many water pollutants can be incredibly damaging to human health or its surrounding ecosystems. The Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972 in which the discharge of pollutants into waters in the United States became regulated. The Clean Water Act outlines point sources that cannot release pollutants into the water without a permit. Similarly, the Clean Water Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to implement pollution control. The Clean Water Act has been revised in 1981 and 1987, and further divisions such as Title I of the Great Lakes Critical Programs Act of 1990 have been created. The Clean Water Act has proven to be incredibly effective at reducing water pollution and making water generally safer to drink, use, and swim in. In addition to the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in 1974, which specifically outlines the standards for drinking water quality.

In 1969, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught on fire after significant amounts of pollutants were released. There was substantial damage to surrounding bridges and infrastructure. About a decade earlier the Cuyahoga River was burned in another oil slick causing over a million dollars in damage without attracting national attention. While 1969 was over 50 years ago, 2014 was less than a decade ago. In 2014, the Flint Water Crisis contaminated hundreds of thousands of peoples’ waters in Flint, Michigan and did not receive clean drinking water until late 2016. There are countless more examples of water pollution events that were and are incredibly detrimental to public health and their surrounding ecosystems.

Still, some of the leading sources of water pollution come from agriculture, sewage, wastewater, oil pollution, and radioactive substances. While it is near impossible for individuals to curb the leading sources of water pollution, there are still many options to make a big difference in water quality. Individuals can use less water, avoid using cleaning items with toxins, checking their water for lead contamination, and not polluting outside water sources. Water quality is at the center for safe environmental conditions, and is connected to public, ecosystem, and economic health.

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