Like most people, I welcomed the onset of spring and summer for all their colorful, fragrant blooms that filled the air and landscapes. Until I started my education in water and the environment. This is when I first learned the term eutrophication—which comes from Greek words meaning well and nourished. So far, sounds like a good thing doesn’t it? However, in the context of our water resources, eutrophication refers to being too well nourished—to the point of nutrient pollution. Again, you might be asking, “If nutrients are beneficial, how can they be harmful? Don’t more nutrients equal more positive results?”
From an environmental outlook, the problem with our water resources being “too well nourished” is that the oversupply of nutrients causes algae to thrive. You may have heard of algal blooms, and I assure you, they’re going to be more frequently discussed in all kinds of circles—from water to ecology to agriculture to real estate to tourism—because it is negatively affecting all of them, as well as others. To explain it simply, the way agriculture and society are operating today is causing more nutrients—two of the biggest culprits are phosphates and nitrates—to find their way into water sources. Let’s take a quick look at a few areas being impacted:
- Aquatic life: Thriving water vegetation sucks the oxygen out of the water, leaving less for other life forms. It also hogs the sunlight, preventing rays from passing through the water to marine life that needs it.
- Drinking-water supply: Companies like American Water have the technology to filter out excess nutrients and other pollutants resulting from eutrophication. But, that increases costs and time required to operate and maintain these special systems.
- Fishing industry and food supply: Eutrophication is compromising the quality and quantity of fish and shellfish, which trickles down to impact employment and the economy.
- Tourism: Restricted fishing, boating and other water activities are seriously hurting tourism in certain areas—at the cost of about $1 billion annually. In some instances, the odor and overall lack of visual appeal of algal blooms adds more negativity to the equation.
- Real estate: Similar to tourism, the real estate market is feeling the effects of eutrophication. Areas with cleaner water supplies, odor-free atmospheres and visually pleasant environments have greater home and property values. As these environments disappear, the values go down.
Lastly, every source of nutrient pollution in water is feeling the impact, as the EPA and other environmental regulators and activists crack down on the supply of phosphates and nitrates entering our water supply. This means everyone—from farmers to factory owners to businesses to you and I—are being called on to change our lifestyles and “clean up” our water before it has a chance to find its way back into lakes, streams and so forth.
Here are a few ways you can help:
- Don’t use fertilizers or other lawn-care and garden-care products containing nitrates, phosphorous, or potassium;
- Gather and properly dispose of grass clippings, leaves and other organic materials, to prevent them from blowing into the street and entering storm drains;
- Never hose down sidewalks and driveways, but sweep them instead so they don’t end up in the storm drains;
- Pick up after your pets;
- Divert runoff from roofs to gardens, not the street;
By working together, we can mitigate water nutrient pollution and keep the “blooms” in the trees and gardens where they belong!