At the Clearwater Festival back in June reminded me about one of the most important aspects of water and that is the water cycle. My memory was also aided by the fact that Delaware NEEDS rain, NOW. My garden is dying. My blackberries are dying. So consider this post a raindance!
We are introduced to the idea of the water cycle at primary (elementary) school. The simplest form is:
It rains on the ground
Water gets into rivers
Rivers go to the sea
The more complex version of the same idea is explained at Wikipedia.
What I am interested in is how we have exploited the water cycle to our advantage and, having recently been on the Hudson river, the problems that we now need to resolve because of that.
Thanks to the Victorians, and who ever is the American equivalent, towns were better planned starting in the mid 19th century. This meant that waste no longer flowed down the middle of the streets or into cesspools, but was hidden away into sewage pipes and pumped out into a nearby water source – be it river or sea. While this was a great improvement on what had been happening before, reducing incidences of cholera and cleaning the city roads and air, it was still untreated or barely treated sewage being dumped into rivers and seas. Unfortunately, even though we have a more sophisticated understanding of waste water and pollution, this is still happening. Yeah, water is often treated in sewage treatment works before being pumped into the water source. There is also the problem of industrial and agricultural waste. The latter in particular is hard to control due to field run-off. This can also lead to the issue of dead zones such as those in the North Sea, off the coast of Oregon, and in the Gulf of Mexico.
A dead zone is when the oxygen level of the sea is too low to support marine life adequately. Excess nutrients from groundwater run-off (typically agricultural fertilizers, sewage) cause phytoplankton to grew rapidly, or bloom, which leads to a zooplankton bloom which leads to a bacterial bloom leading to the oxygen being used up.
The other problem is that we use the rivers as a source of drinking water. How can we be certain that the drinking water and the wastewater aren’t getting too mixed? Cities further down river have a hard job getting clean drinking water. There is nothing like being told on your first day as undergraduate that London water has been through at least seven people before it gets to you. I know it is treated and cleaned in between, but euw!
And if we have problems keeping our water clean, how are poorer countries going to do it?
What can we do as individuals to help? Start by being careful about what you put on your lawn, down your drains, and remember that storm drains are not the same a sewage drains. You could also find out about your local watershed. I am part of the Christina River Watershed, this leads into the Delaware River Basin. If I lived to west, I would be part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. If you get really keen you could volunteer to monitor your local watershed.
As for Delaware: Rain is threatened – it is hot sticky and cloudy and the students are moving back in – there has been rain north and south of us – the weather channel says 60% chance of precipitation. I’m hoping… Perhaps I should water the garden. That should make it rain.
After reading that, relax on the Hudson river: