Water is essential to all life, whether on land or in aquatic environments. Living organisms can potentially survive months without physical food, but cannot last more than a week without receiving water in some capacity.
Water’s availability to people and organisms should not be taken lightly, seeing that this Earth is not promised a clean water supply for eternity. The supply of water remains constantly in motion through the hydrologic cycle, but its imperative to taken into consideration the amount of clean, drinking water that is being harmed and degraded.
To understand regulations put in place to protect and preserve clean water sources, its important to understand the different types of pollution sources that put clean water at risk.
Keywords: Water, pollution, nonpoint source, point source, federal regulation, hydrologic cycle.
Water covers about 85% of planet Earth. Water is essential to all life, whether on land or in aquatic environments. Living organisms can potentially survive months without physical food, but cannot last more than a week without receiving water in some capacity. Water’s availability to people and organisms should not be taken lightly, seeing that this Earth is not promised a clean water supply for eternity. The supply of water remains constantly in motion through the hydrologic cycle, but its imperative to taken into consideration the amount of clean, drinking water that is being harmed and degraded.
Although there has been a significant increase in the usage of water in the United States—this is largely due to population growth causing a need for more indoor plumbing, increased industrial demand and greater agricultural use—and other countries in the past 100 years, the amount of water readily available remains the same due to the hydrologic cycle.
This cycle describes the transformation and circulation of water in nature. The actions of the hydrologic cycle include evaporation, precipitation, infiltration, storage, and runoff. The cycle begins when water is evaporated—this can be from land surfaces, the ocean, or surface water bodies—and becomes apart of air in the atmosphere. This moisture in the air causes clouds to form, which returns to the water to the Earth’s surface through precipitation. Forms of precipitation include hail, snow, sleet, rain, fog , and dew.
Precipitated water returns to oceans, lakes, and rivers on the surface. Water is sometimes intercepted by plants and returned to the air through a process called transpiration. Surface runoff water returns to the air through the evaporation step of the cycle. Water that has infiltrated can percolate deep into the Earth’s surface to be stored as groundwater. Groundwater can be present in soil or bedrock. Underground water bearing formations are called aquifers. Ground water is the primary source of drinking water for the United States, and it also serves to be a backup to surface water supplies when a drought occurs. When said groundwater discharges as surface water, it evaporates into the atmosphere and completes the hydrologic cycle.
In the past 10-15 years, the abuse and use of water in the United States has began to decrease due to conservation efforts, rising water prices, and the emergence of water-preserving technology. The United States’ current use of water is for agriculture and electricity production. The processes used to turn water into power are hydroelectric and thermoelectric process. Thermoelectric power is generated by converting water into steam by heating it with nuclear or fossil fuels; water is used to cool. Hydroelectric power is generated by allowing water from dammed reservoirs to flow by gravity to move turbines. The production of electricity uses more water than any other industry. To understand regulations put in place to protect and preserve clean water sources, its important to understand the different types of pollution sources that put clean water at risk.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines point source pollution as “any single identifiable source of pollution from which pollutants are discharged, such as a pipe, ditch, ship or factory smokestack” (Hill, 1997). Manufacturing plants and sewage treatment plants are two commonly recognized examples of point source pollution. Industrial facilities—counting oil refineries, paper plants, and chemical, hardware and automotive producers—often times release one or more pollutants in respective waters. There are a few production lines that release their effluents directly into bodies of water. Sewage treatment plants treat human waste and send it into steams or rivers. Another way that a few manufacturing plants and sewage treatment plants manage waste is by combining it with runoff in a combined sewage works. Runoff is used to refer to the stormwater that runs over surfaces like driveways, and as water crosses these surfaces, it acquires chemicals and toxins. This untreated, contaminated water goes directly into a combined sewage. Unregulated discharges from point sources can result in water pollution and drinking water that’s not safe for consumption.
A somewhat generic definition of nonpoint source pollution includes everything that would not be considered a point source, or not associated with points of discharge. Nonpoint source pollution generally results from land runoff, precipitation, drainage, seepage or modifications to hydrologic cycle. Nonpoint sources of pollution are caused by rainfall or melted precipitation moving through the ground. As the runoff moves, it picks up and carries away natural and human-made pollutants, depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and ground water. Nonpoint source pollution is the leading remaining cause of water quality problems. The effects of nonpoint source pollutants on specific waters vary and may not always be fully assessed. However, we know that these pollutants have harmful effects on drinking water supplies, recreation, fisheries and wildlife.
The Clean Water Act began as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and has since been transformed and statutes added. In increase in public awareness and concern for controlling water pollution led to Act’s amendments in 1972. With this amendment, the law became known as the Clean Water Act. The original goal was to restore the integrity of the water in the United States to a quality that is capable of being swam and fished in, and totaling eliminating discharges of pollutants into waters. It also placed an emphasis on individual effluent discharging. The Clean Water Act gave the EPA the authority to introduce pollution control programs. It worked to maintain already existing requirements to set water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters. It also made it unlawful for any person to discharge any pollutant into navigable waters, unless a permit was obtained under the Act’s provisions.