Quality Matters: How Erosion Affects Water Quality
A key element of SERCAP’s Mission is to provide access to safe, clean drinking water throughout the southeastern United States. Water quality plays a huge role in this; poor water quality is a direct cause of communities not having access to safe, clean water. And oftentimes, environmental factors are what lead to poor water quality. Understanding what these factors are, how humankind impacts them, and possible solutions is key in fulfilling SERCAP's Mission.
We’ve written before on how rising sea levels can affect well water supplies. Erosion is another environmental factor that impacts water supplies. Erosion is when soil is abraded, detached, and removed from one point and deposited elsewhere by an agent, such as water, wind, or ice.
Erosion will occur no matter what, but human impact can increase how often it occurs, and how much it impacts water supplies. Deforestation, for example, greatly increases erosion, whether it’s done for industry or land development.
Plants create vast networks of roots underground, which help hold topsoil--the nutrient-rich part of a land surface--in place. The more land is developed, the less stable the earth becomes, and the more likely it is to be impacted by natural forces.
The key thing about erosion is the soil, when displaced, doesn't just disappear. It gets deposited elsewhere. So if an area is deforested, and a rainstorm comes and washes away a whole bunch of soil into a nearby river, suddenly that water supply has far more dirt in it than it should. This makes the water murkier, which makes it more difficult for light to enter and feed the aquatic plants which help filter the water. Further, soil deposits bring nutrients with them, which promote algae growth. Algae blooms block sunlight and decrease the oxygen supply in the water, killing fish and plants.
Not only does soil bring all its nutrients into the water when it’s deposited, it also brings all of the chemicals in it as well. Another impact of the human footprint: pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and much more can contaminate a water supply. If erosion increases, more of these contaminants end up in the water, reducing its quality and making it unsafe to use.
Poor water quality doesn’t just mean communities lose safe, clean drinking water (although that certainly is a major issue). It also means the water can’t be used at all. For example, farms can’t use polluted water to grow crops, because either the plants simply won’t grow, or it will contaminate the soil, which then contaminates the food, making it unsafe to eat. And in the long-term, it can permanently damage the land, making it unusable.
To control erosion, therefore, is to control water quality. If we’ve already done irreversible damage to the land by developing it, however, how can we fix this issue?
One way is to be more intentional when urban planning. Ensuring their are proper run-off channels to keep those contaminants from the water supply is a good start. Building green spaces also helps keep the land a little more stable, and less prone to washing away, than a space without any foliage. Lastly, reducing the use of pollutants in farming and urban development will help keep water supplies cleaner, even if affected by erosion.
We want to create a world in which safe, clean drinking water is available to every community, which means we must be advocates for our environment. We will continue to raise the voices of our most vulnerable communities, and work together to find solutions so our goal can become reality.