Sunday, 26 September 2010

Safe Water for the Future?

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a mission to enhance and protect the quality of life in America, and specifically in relation to this article, to manage water. They state on their website that they are a world leader in the natural sciences due to responsiveness to society’s needs. The reason I point out these things is that I came across their article (link posted below) with information about nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in water, which says that this pollution has either stayed the same or increased over the past ten years. The blame for lack of improvement is passed on to Federal, State and local... I’m not sure what. Moreover, for about 40 million Americans who have private wells, well ... this pollution problem rests squarely on their own shoulders as private wells are not regulated by the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act!

What this survey indicates is that little to nothing is being done about this problem. This is not responsive action in any sense and certainly not an indication of excellence.

The article continues with information that a variety of sources contributes to this problem, such as wastewater and industrial discharges, fertilizer and manure applications to agricultural land, runoff from urban areas, and atmospheric sources. This is hardly enlightening. However, we are also told that nitrate can persist in groundwater for years (even decades!!), and so, don’t expect any changes in this type of pollution in the near future!
Finally, we are told that “...USGS continues to work closely with the EPA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, the States, and local watersheds to assure that USGS monitoring and assessments provide useful information for managing nutrients throughout the Nation.” In reporting this information to the public, it would be helpful for the USGS to include a link to information about what is being done to correct this problem. In other words, what positive results is this information providing? Instead, we are given options for more information from USGS which for the average citizen is quite useless.

As it stands, it seems that the US taxpayer is forking out for a lot information for nothing.

See USGS article for further details:
Elevated Nitrogen and Phosphorus Still Widespread in Much of the Nation’s Streams and Groundwater

Meanwhile, “on the other side of the pond” over half of the UK’s freshwater is overly polluted!

Baroness Byford (Conservative) asked Her Majesty's Government in the House of Lords on 27 July 2010 what proportion of tests of freshwater fail due to phosphate pollution; and what other main sources cause freshwater to fail standards tests.

Lord de Mauley (Whip, House of Lords; Conservative) replied that

Forty-one per cent of river water bodies and 64 per cent of lakes in England and Wales assessed under the Water Framework Directive currently fail to meet the phosphate standards for good ecological status. This is based on WFD classification data for the period 2006-08 and was used for the River Basin Management Plans, published in 2009. The main reasons for failure of the phosphate standards are sewage effluent discharges and run-off from agricultural land. There are standards for over 50 other water quality parameters in freshwaters and the sources of pollution causing failures.

We're running out of freshwater and the freshwater that we have is polluted!

Agriculture accounts for around 61% of the nitrate in rivers (ADAS report to Defra 2007) and around 26% of phosphates (White and Hammond report to Defra 2006).

The Government’s Target and trajectory is to reduce the levels of nitrate and phosphate in river water from agricultural sources to contribute to meeting the environmental objectives of the Water Framework Directive by 2015.

Agriculture provides for our food and fibre but soaks up 70% of the water we use, and is perhaps the biggest single driver behind the loss of freshwater ecosystems. WWF-UK is encouraging farmers and the world’s largest food sector companies to implement better management practices that use water efficiently and minimise harmful chemical pollution.

And this in a country where it rains a lot!!
Updated on 2 January 2015 and looking forward to the Water Framework Directive this year. 

Photo 2 credit