Water pollution seems to be everywhere-no matter where you live, work, or recreate. Bad water take its toll on our daily lives in the form of poisoned ponds and streams, polluted shorelines, closed beaches, and expensive water treatment facilities that cost millions of taxpayer dollars to construct and operate. Bacteria, chemicals, agricultural waste, siltation from poor forestry practices, and other pollutants make water unsafe for human activities, kill fish and wildlife, and destroys aquatic habitat for many organisms.
Pollution occurs in two primary ways. The first is point source pollution-stuff that comes out of a pipe from industry, wastewater treatment plants, and other sources that directly discharges into a river or stream. The Clean Water Act of 1972 enacted by Congress established jurisdiction over these activities. Properly implemented, this law sets goals and standards that provide various degrees of protection from this type of pollution, and has created restoration plans for many affected rivers and streams throughout the U.S. Through regulation, much of the Kennebec River and other important Maine rivers have seen significant improvements in their water quality
The second type of pollution, called non-point pollution is much more difficult to control. This contamination enters ponds, rivers, and streams diffusely over a wide geographic area. For example, storm-water runoff picks up animal waste from farms, chemicals from lawn applications and agriculture, grease and oil from roadways, and silt from clear cutting timber before finally draining into waterways. Non-point source pollution has become our nation's largest water quality problem with over 2,000 major watersheds moderately to severely impaired.
Urban areas share a lot of the responsibility for non-point pollution even though they cover only 5% of the land in the continental United States. The same factors-slope, soil-type, and amount of rainfall affect both urban and rural environments, but in different ways. Traditionally, when compared to agricultural areas, storm water runoff from homes and gardens in urban areas often contains much higher concentrations of insecticides and fertilizers. Without the vegetative buffers that exist in rural areas, it is more likely these pollutants will not be absorbed before they reach our lakes and streams.
Agricultural districts with well-drained soils may have less runoff, but can also pollute groundwater sources and aquifers over time. This has been a problem identified in blueberry and potato production in several Maine counties.
As difficult as it is to believe, non-point sources contribute more contaminants than point sources, because point-sources are regulated. Having laws that place limits on the types and amounts of contaminants released to water has resulted in reductions in industrial sources and has created upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities. Although violations sometimes occur, legislation and enforcement have had a positive influence and overall water quality has improved.
So what can the average citizen do to help? Saving water and protecting it is everyone's responsibility. It is not difficult for homeowners to take a few simple steps that make a difference and here are a few suggestions.
Repair leaky faucets and toilets right away by replacing washers and gaskets, because together, they can waste over 50 gallons of water a day. Turning off the tap when you brush your teeth or shave can save 3-5 gallons every time, and using a fully loaded dishwasher will prevent almost 800 gallons of water each month from going down the drain. The installation of water-saving showerheads and low-flush toilets will save the average family 14,000-17,000 gallons of water each year with the newer, high-efficiency models available today.
Dispose of household cleaners, paint and other chemicals safely. Many cleaning products found in our homes and garages are too dangerous to be disposed of in the trash or down the drain. Anything marked "Poison" or "Danger" should be taken to your local hazardous waste center. Keep your car in good running condition. Cars leak motor oil and other fluids onto our streets and driveways and when it rains, these contaminants run down our streets through storm drains and into our rivers and ponds. Preventing polluted run-off will help keep our drinking water safe. One quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of river water, so never pour oil or paint into a storm drain or the trash.
Buy and use environmentally friendly products that cause less impact on our resources. Use organic fertilizers for your lawn and only water your lawn during the evening when the evaporation rate is low. Avoiding products that include chlorine, phosphates, and high levels of nitrate for greening lawns will help to remove pollutants. Using native landscape plants that require less care, and not cutting your lawn as often, reduces pesticides and water usage. Sweeping your walks and driveways instead of hosing them clean saves water, reduces siltation, and prevents contamination from lawn fertilizer.
Using common sense is the best way to protect our drinking water, and to insure we will have adequate supplies for the future. Citizens and local communities must recognize the importance of good water for both conservation purposes and the economic well being of cities and towns in Maine. The challenge for the future is to educate, focus, and collaborate to build a stewardship and creative solutions to achieve these goals.
Take a watershed approach to issues of land protection, land-use planning, water resource protection, and environmental education. Offer hands-on, science-based programs to children and adults both in the classroom and outdoors. Teaching children about point source and non-point source pollution, and the effect of that pollution on our water supply and wildlife habitats will help them become better stewards of our resources as adults.
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|American Whitewater is a leading boaters-rights advocacy organization. Visit them online at: www.americanwhitewater.org||Maine Riversí mission is to protect, restore and enhance the health and vitality of Maine's Rivers. www.mainerivers.org||River Network is a national leader in supporting grassroots river and watershed conservation groups. www.rivernetwork.org||RiverSmart is a national public education campaign helping Americans understand how daily water usage affects rivers. www.riversmart.org www.riversmart.org|
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