The Threats and Stresses to Our Water Supply

The Present Threats and Stresses to Water

The Issues

Polluted Water

Water remains one of our most essential resources. Although water has been an asset, the society we know today has introduced threats to this resource on which our society has thrived.  After decades, the way that we have reshaped and developed our environment to meet our growing needs for agriculture, industry, and civilization has finally begun to create substantial changes in our drinking water. The maximum use or sometimes overuse of a resource is often heavily incentivized in the market in an effort to meet demand. 

However, in addition to using resources, we use of water sources such as the ocean and lakes as a sink for waste, runoff, and pollution.  By using water in this way, companies often incur savings by not having to pay for the full costs of safely disposing of byproducts. Examples include the disposal of industrial waste in water stores and the runoff of chemicals used in agriculture and pharmaceuticals.  Less well-known uses of water can include the cycling of huge amounts of outside water through a nuclear plant, and then later returning it to the source at much higher temperatures, which often disrupts the ecosystem. It is this kind of use that poses the most immediate threat to water. 

A Specific Case: PFAS

According to a recent article “Harvard Study Finds Millions Of Americans May Be Drinking Toxic Water,” at, one drinking water pollutant in particular that has gone unnoticed is perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).  PFAS are toxic, carcinogenic, and are strongly suspected to cause birth defects.  These substances are used as a coating for common household items, but manufacturing waste as well as products have been disposed of in watersheds.  According to the study, higher concentrations of PFAS were found near areas with Industries, Fire Training Areas and Wastewater Treatment Plants. 

PFSA detected

PFAS are just one example of the sort of issues that impact our water supply.  In this case, the damage is still being incurred years after the pollutants were introduced, and it was caused by the rashness of putting chemicals into a water system as a means of easy disposal. 

Some Solutions

The good news is that recent high profile cases, from increased reports of lead in communities to court cases arising in cancer clusters, have brought public focus to the problem. While the public is worried that solutions are too costly, the facts show that some ideas are at hand. What is required is a public focus on the problem, and a willingness to advocate for policies that support innovation.

Green Infrastructure

According to Natural Resources Defense Council, green infrastructure is one way to reduce the amount of runoff that ends up in water sources.  Examples include permeable pavement, grassy traffic medians, pocket parks, and green roofs, all of which can act as filters to prevent solids and chemicals from flowing into the water supply.  Providing financial incentives can also be an efficient way to spur investment in green infrastructure, especially in privately owned land.  The benefits of green infrastructure also include higher property values, increased green space, and affordability.

Refined Legislation and Regulation

According to the NRDC, some of their goals for improving water management include performance targets for utilities, consumer rebate programs, standardized reporting of water losses, more accurate water meters, and rigorous standards for plumbing equipment, appliances, and landscape water use.  Small-scale changes such as more efficient plumbing standards in homes and commercial buildings can lead to significant aggregate reductions in water usage when widely used. 

Agricultural Changes

Efficient irrigation systems also help to reduce water waste in some situations, such as drip irrigation.  The NRDC states that refining the scheduling of irrigation times can also lead to efficiency gains in water use, which reduces the depletion of groundwater supplies.  The proper use of fertilizer can also prevent algal blooms from occurring in nearby water sources due to runoff from farms.  Other practices include cover-cropping and no-till farming in order to further conserve water supplies. A range of resources are being developed that help farmers not only manage their nutrient load, but turn waste into energy.