Oct. 20, 2016

So, let’s talk about water. The earth is the beautiful blue water planet. The only planet in the solar system that has the temperature range to accommodate water in all three states of matter- solid ice, liquid and vapor.  In terms of the distribution of water most of the water, 97%, on earth is salt water in the oceans. A little over 2% is frozen in glaciers and some is water vapor in the atmosphere. Less than 1% is fresh water that all land organisms require.

Water cycles, so it is considered to be a renewable resource, but fresh, clean water conservation is paramount. The big areas of water use are in agriculture, energy production, municipalities, industry, recreation and tourism. These same establishments also pollute and stress our freshwater systems. Water pollution is generally divided into two categories, point source pollution and non-point source pollution. Point source, just as it sounds, is pollution from a specific place one could point to such as a pipe or smokestack. Point sources of water pollution include municipal sewage treatment plant discharges and industrial plant discharges. Municipal sewage treatment plant point sources can contribute pollution in the form of oxygen-depleting nutrients and in the form of pathogens that cause serious health hazards in drinking water and swimming areas. Industrial point sources can contribute pollution in the form of toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Non-point source pollution is more difficult to identify. It occurs when precipitation picks up pollutants such as manure, pesticides, oil and construction site material and deposits them into rivers, lakes, the ocean or even groundwater. We tend to treat our waterways as if they were toilets, not thinking about the fact that we all live downstream. The same water we pollute is the same water we all have to drink and share with wildlife.

The majority of our planet is covered by ocean. Over 75% of the pollution in the oceans is non-point source from human activates on the land. Almost all water from rivers and streams ends up in the ocean. There is a large area at the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico which is so polluted that scientists call it the dead zone. Very little lives there. Many of the offshore oil drilling sites leak oil. Plastics are a big problem because they don’t decompose so we have decades of plastic trash in the oceans.

But the ocean also absorbs pollutants from air pollution such as mercury and carbon dioxide from coal plants. The carbon from burning fossil fuels are causing big problems in the oceans. When carbon mixes with water it forms carbonic acidic and causes acidification of the water. So what does a lower pH in the ocean mean? For one thing, it means less calcium carbonate. This mineral is a key ingredient in the shells of several marine species, and without it, fewer shellfish are surviving to adulthood. It also dissolves limestone, which makes it more difficult for coral to grow. We do not know the pH tolerance of photosynthetic algae, which produce ¾’s of the world’s oxygen supply. We do know that algae that are able to thrive in low pH and higher temperatures tend to create toxins and red tides. So many human activities have dire affects on the oceans and our megar fresh water supplies. For years, the petrol-chemical industry has claimed the solution to pollution is dilution, but there are limits to how much our water systems can take and still sustain life. 

Water is life! From an ethical point of view, it should be conserved and protected.