Water Pollution

Water Pollution: How Humans Impact the Water Cycle

Written by Don Huie

Scientists estimate that Earth has about 336 million cubic miles of water, which includes all of the water that makes up snow, glaciers, ice, oceans, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Underground water and atmospheric water are also included in the total measurement of Earth's water. This water is constantly cycling between different forms, and this is known as the water cycle. When you understand the water cycle, you'll be better prepared to help protect our water supply.

What Is the Water Cycle?

Water is present on Earth in liquid, solid, and gas form. Water is constantly moving between these three forms and from place to place, and this movement is what scientists call the water cycle. Liquid water on Earth evaporates to become water vapor, and then it condenses to become clouds. Eventually, clouds shed precipitation that falls back down to the earth, where it collects as liquid again.

What Is Water Pollution?

When substances contaminate water sources and make them unusable for drinking, cleaning, and swimming, the sources are polluted. Water pollutants include trash, chemicals, parasites, and bacteria. Because of the water cycle, all types of pollution eventually arrive in the water supply, where they act as poisons or cause diseases like cholera. Toxic chemicals may also impact animals and plants, which can then affect humans when the animals or plants enter the food supply.

Types of Water Pollutants

Water pollutants may originate from direct or indirect sources. Direct pollution includes output from refineries, factories, and waste treatment plants. Indirect pollution includes any contaminants that enter the water supply from the soil, groundwater, or atmosphere. Soil and groundwater contamination happens due to agricultural practices and industrial waste that's not disposed of properly. Atmospheric contaminants are produced from auto and factory emissions.

Water and Climate Change

Climate changes on Earth are affecting the availability of water, where water collects, and the quality of water. Some areas are receiving too much precipitation, and other places have drought conditions in which not enough precipitation falls. Having too much or too little water impacts human and animal health, agriculture, ecosystems, energy production, the economy, national security, and recreation.

Oceans cover more than 70 percent of Earth's surface. This means that oceans are responsible for absorbing significant amounts of solar energy, and ocean currents then move this warmth around the planet, which regulates the climate. Changes in ocean temperatures and currents will influence both weather and climate. In some areas, temperatures may be higher than typical, and in other areas, temperatures can be cooler than normal. Oceanic temperature fluctuations can also be responsible for spawning storms that cause significant damage.

What Can We Do to Protect Our Water?

An average family in the United States uses more than 300 gallons of water every day. Protecting the water is everyone's responsibility, since everyone contributes to water problems and everyone needs water to survive. Although there are millions of cubic miles of water on Earth, less than one percent of that water is usable. Water treatment plants have to process water to make it usable. Conserving water reduces the need for water treatment and keeps more water available to use.

Some easy ways to protect water include installing low-flow showerheads and toilets, which use much less water, and washing only full loads of laundry and dishes, which saves both water and energy. Using a dishwasher uses less water than washing dishes by hand. It's also important to fix any plumbing leaks in your home; dripping pipes and faucets waste many gallons of water each year. Another way to save water is to take your car to the carwash: It actually uses less water than running a hose on your driveway. If you can't get to the carwash, fill up a bucket instead of running the hose. Choose native and drought-resistant plants in outdoor landscapes to reduce the need for irrigation. And one more way to cut your water use is to collect rainwater, which you can use to water your indoor plants or save to water your garden the next time it needs watering.