Possibly the greatest danger threatening Lebanon currently is the disastrous state of the foundation of life, the disastrous state of our environment. This catastrophe is not limited to Lebanon, but, as you know, is a worldwide problem bred by ignorance and greed. An important point to be kept in mind is that demographic tendencies, the protection of the environment and a lasting economic development are closely connected and policies must aim at creating balanced objectives among these three fields.
Woods cover about 6 percent of the surface of Lebanon. The fertile lands represent 12 percent of Lebanon's surface. They are quickly disappearing due to the savage urbanization. The protection of these fertile lands constitutes a first priority because their dis appearance will lead to a natural catastrophe for the development of agriculture. Furthermore, the pollution due to solid wastes and pesticides requires a serious control over the quality and the quantity of the products used. In addition, the loss of species in Lebanon is an almost irreversible process that inevitably will result in tremendous ecological havoc.
Pollution: Air,Water, Soil
Pollution is defined as the introduction by people into the environment of substances or energy liable to cause h azard to human health, harm to living resources and ecological systems, damage to structures, or interference with legitimate uses of the environment.
Pollution includes: mining, burying toxins, gases from factories, the leaded gas from cars, chemicals in agriculture, use of toxins in undetermined, unstudied fashions, sewage waste and factory wastewater, destruction and change of the soil in construction and quarry activities, including water - soil - and air. It is not only the opposite of cleanliness, but encompasses every destruction and havoc placed upon the environment In essence, pollution has three parts: soil, air, and water.
Unfortunately, the policy followed by the Lebanese government since the 1950s always has been based on the extension of the field of industry and the encouragement of exports, without regard to environmental concerns. The State favored high-productivity or high-value-added concerns by adopting certain fiscal, customs and commercial measures. "No reference has ever been made on the impact of industry on the surroundings or on the protection of the environment, although development in given sector affects the environment and other sectors in the either a positive or negative manner" (National Report on the Environment a nd Development i Lebanon, 1991).
Sources of Pollution
Toxic matters released by industries, and the precipitation of matters in suspension in the air emanating from industry and from all combustion process in general are a primary source of air and water pollution. The production of electrical energy pollutes the atmosphere by the discharge of thermo-electric power plants. The sulfur content of fuel used in Lebanon is high and so are SO2 emissions. Cement works, refineries, thermo electric power houses and a multiplicity of generators and small combustion sources are the major pollutants of the atmosphere.
In addition, liquid and solid wastes discharged from industries have resulted in significant water pollution. Industrial firms on the c oast discharge their waste waters into the sea without any treatment. Inland industries discharge waste waters generally into the nearest stream and without treatment. Some industries evacuate their waste waters into deep bore-holes with the risk of contamination of underground waters and springs that sprout in downward spots. Furthermore, industrial solid wastes are generally deposited with municipal refuse without any particular measures taken.
2. Non-industrial solid wastes and waste waters
Non-industrial solid wastes and waste waters are a primary factor in freshwater water, sea water and soil pollution. Wastes brought by waste-water conveyors are poured directly onto the coast without any treatment. Wastes from marinas and pleasure boats, and wastes left about by vacationers and shore users further contribute to sea pollution. In addition, waste waters are poured into the sea and freshwater without any treatment.
Uncontrolled qualities and quantities of pesticides, insecticid es, herbicides and fertilizers, and the bad utilization of animal fertilizers on agriculture lands result in both water and soil pollution.
Atmospheric pollution which constitutes for ordinary citizens the most evident aspect of the problem of the environment has been the least researched in Lebanon. The air of the cities and areas of large human population is poor, and the quality of the air decreases with the increase of factories and with the formation of enveloping fog around the citie s. In 1973, the National Council for Scientific Research (NCSR) launched a scheme for the continuous observation of contents in the air of harmful matters (gas and dust). The war put an end to the project and since then atmospheric pollution problems continued to worsen.
Air pollution has not been the subject of any regulation with the exception of the prohibition of the importation and use of diesel vehicles (law of the 10th June, 1961 and decree 579 of the 1st August, 1956) and the required conditions for vehicle engines, which currently are not being applied. There exists no authority in Lebanon which is directly responsible for the quality of the air and the protection of the atmosphere against pollution.
The major pollutants of the atmosphere ar e the cement works, refineries, thermo-electric power houses, a multiplicity of small combustion sources, and generators installed at numerous industrial premises and residences to compensate for power cuts. Production of electrical energy pollutes the a tmosphere by the discharge of thermo-electric power plants. The sulfur content of fuel used in Lebanon is high and so are SO2 emissions. However, fuel of low sulfur content costs 20 to 30% more than the type at present used. The treatment of pollutants is also costly and would represent substantial charges to the cost of energy.
With the exception of waters at high altitudes where there are no at present constructions above their levels, all Lebanese waters are exposed to pollution due to the lack of a system for the evacuation of solid and liquid residues and the lack of a control and water-protection system against pollution. The diseases transmitted by water and prevalent in Lebanon are typhoid, hepatitis, and dysentery. The resul ts of a large number of tests made at different periods for waters of different origins have proved the existence of bacteriological pollution.
Due to the war, statistics are scarce in Lebanon. However, it is well known in the country that diseases tran smitted by water are widespread. In 1990, there were four known epidemics transmitted by polluted drinking water:
- Nabeh el Tasseh in South Lebanon, 20th April, 1990.
- Tayr Debba in South Lebanon, 12th/13th July, 1990.
- Bebnin in North Lebanon, 20th August,1990.
- Denbo in the Akkar region, North Lebanon, 15th November, 1990.
A correlation was found between the number of cases relating to one of these diseases in a given month and the characteristics of the flow-rate of water streams, par ticularly during periods of vegetable-crop irrigation with polluted waters.
Industrial and non-industrial liquid and solid wastes are the primary contributors to water pollution. Industrial firms on the coast discharge their waste waters into the sea wi thout any treatment. Inland industries discharge waste waters generally into the nearest stream and without treatment. In addition, some industries evacuate their waste waters into deep bore-holes with the risk of contamination of underground waters and springs that sprout in downward spots. Also, industrial solid wastes are generally evacuated with municipal refuse without any necessary particular measures taken.
Non-industrial solid and liquid wastes pose a "permanent danger for public health and environment" (National Report on the Environment and Development in Lebanon, 1991). Frequently, waste waters are directly evacuated in rivers or in the sea, without any preliminary treatment. Sometimes, these waste waters are used for irrigation. Ninety percent of the solid wastes are directly dumped into natural areas along the roads... or are directly burnt without considering the consequent atmospheric pollution and the potential danger of the spread of fire.
In what relates to waste-water management, the current population is estimated at 4,700,000 persons, taking into account non-Lebanese residents, temporary displacements and secondary residences. Relating to household refuse, the quantity of solid waste is of some 0.7 to 6 .9 Kg/resident/day, that is a total of 3800 tons/day approximately of solid wastes for the whole of Lebanon.
Waste-waters are not treated in Lebanon. Sewers of coastal agglomerations or agglomerations near the coast, Beirut included, pour waste-waters o nto the shore either directly or by way of a very short conveyor or a small rivulet flowing into the sea. Inland, agglomerations served by a public network generally pour their waste-water into the nearest stream. Inhabitants who utilize their own means of waste-water disposal usually have unlined cesspools or drill deep wells and merely inject waste-waters into the soil or simply dispose of them at the soil's surface. "A situation of this type has a catastrophic impact on the environment in Lebanon particularly in what relates to beach and water pollution. The whole population bears the consequences" (National Report on the Environment and Development, 1991).
Forty-three percent of the population is not served by a collection system of household rubbish. Generally, trash collection is insured in large agglomerations. Small agglomerations (less than 5000 inhabitants) usually attach themselves to neighboring larger agglomerations since alone they cannot afford the personnel and equipment needed for the task.
Only Beirut had, before the war in 1975, a working solid-waste treatment plan. It had a capacity of 700 tons per day which has now gone down to no more than 100 tons/day. It produced compost through a combined mechanical and biological treatment.
Elsewhere, waste is transferred to uncontrolled discharge sites which pollute the air, the sea and waters, spoil the scenery and represent imminent risks to public health. Waste management and the collection and evacuation of solid wastes are at the charge of municipalities which are often small and have small budgets. There is approximately one thousand villages which have no municipalities, and therefore have no authority responsible for solid wastes.
In an effort to resolve this problem, the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) with the assistance of UNDP and WHO prepared in 1980-82 the "Master Plan for Waste Water Management" and the "Master Plan for Solid-Wastes Management", UNDP LEB/77/033 and WHO/BSM/001. Unfortunately, both have yet to be implemented.
From the beginning, people have been accustomed to throw whatever they wish into the sea - thus, the sea has carried the waste products of humans and animals, food waste, chemical products and byproducts, agricu ltural chemicals, petrol, plastic bags, aluminum products, and numerous heavy metals, consequently killing the animals living in the sea and affecting the ecological balance, such as leading to the deaths of sea turtles and the dramatic increase in jellyfish. In Lebanon, the sewage has become underwater rivers in the sea - increasing rates of cholera and typhoid.
In 1985, the results of a study on the pollution of coastal waters carried out since 1979 and based on 40 stations scattered along the coast revealed considerable present macroscopic visible pollution. The primary sources of such pollution are the wastes brought by waste-water conveyors which are deposited directly onto the coast without any pre-treatment, and the wastes from marinas and pleasure boats, and wastes left about by vacationers and shore users.
By virtue of Article 6 of Regulation 1104 of the 14th November, 1961, it is forbidden to throw into the sea along the coast any matters that could infect the water, affect, intoxicate fish. The same prohibition applies to factories situated on the coast for the disposal of residues which cannot be thrown into the sea except at the conditions of the authorization for which to be applied.
The current manner in which the coast is exploited is clearly detrimental and destructive, both for the coast and for the future of Lebanon. The use of explosives destroys sea fauna, and causes other unforeseen problems. The direct outpour of sewage, industrial waste and household refuse without prior treatment and with no sanitary measures has transformed the Lebanese beaches into trash dumps and the Lebanese coast into underwater sewers. The removal of maritime accretions at low depths threatens the destruction of what is left of the beaches and even the destruction of neighboring gardens during winter storms. Lastly, the small coastal plain, generally very narrow at the foot of the mountain, is already lost to increasing urbanization in Tripoli, Jounieh, Antelias, Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre. The coast is being transformed into concrete, a linear city of catastrophic architecture along the coast.
Soil is the foundation of terrestrial communities, the site of decomposition of organic matter and the return of mineral elements to the nutrient cycle. Soil is the very basis of development in the natural sense, and this foundation is dramatically deteriorating in Lebanon.
There is a tremendous increase today in the use of chemicals and in the use of synthetic fertilizer, all without any study into this matter. Consequently, there has been an increase in foreign particles and chemicals in the soil, under trees, and a drenching of agricultural products in chemicals, leading to, what can be described as, the burning of the land, or, in oth er words - the killing of the bacteria that lives within the soil. The bacteria's demise affects the rates of decomposition, the return of nutrients into the soil and ... thus the viable regeneration of valued plants.
One of these chemicals is used to kill the wild plants that naturally grow under and around trees and agricultural products. A competition arises between these wild plants and the plants upon which the farmer depends for his livelihood. To avoid what can be perceived as excessive costs - in other words, to limit short-term economic costs - the farmer has chosen to remove these wild vegetation species as a whole, and with the excessive aid of toxic chemicals, that then are absorbed into the soil and the water. Although the use of insect icides, herbicides, and fertilizers may improve agricultural production and the quality of the produce, especially in the short run, failing a suitable selection both qualitatively and quantitatively, the use of such chemicals is at the risk of polluting the soil, waters and the very produce supplied to consumers.
The causes of the deterioration of soils in Lebanon are multiple: erosion, pollution, and urbanization.
Soil erosion is the removal of surface material by wind or water. Erosion occurs due to the depletion of wooded areas, sharp slopes, and rainfall pattern. It has increased in Lebanon due to the deforestation and incorrect road construction.
Soil pollution is caused by the release of toxic matters, untreated wastewaters, and the uncontrolled use of pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers in agriculture.
The development of urban agglomeration and inter-urban structures, particularly during the past thirty years, has been at the expense of a considerable agricultural area. The lost land was among the most fertile in Lebanon. One sixth of good agricultural land is already lost, and deterioration continues at an increasing rate. This evolution, has significant negative effects on agricultural production, and will be discussed in further depth.
Consequences of Soil Deterioration
The soil is not only a natural container of all chemical elements but also a receiver for all kinds of waste products. Naturally, the soil's absorption capacity is significantly lost when the soil deteriorates. In addition, soil's ability to provide nutrients for plants is decreased. When soil is lost, the land becomes barren of natural productivity.
Soil nourishes life through the medium of water. All life on earth requires e ssential elements that come from soil. These chemical elements move from soil to plants as ions and molecules in a water solution. Even fish and other aquatic life feed on plants nourished by soil nutrients dissolved in water. Soil and water are thus the bases of plant and animal life and therefore of civilization itself. Soil and water deterioration, both of which are occurring in Lebanon, are consequently a deterioration of the very foundation of civilization.
Current Soil UtilizationCurrent soil utilization is dominated overwhelmingly by urbanized land (60%), with potential agricultural land second (34%) and wooded areas at a mere 60,000 ha (Table 1).
The recommended land use by the Lebanese government (National Report on the Environment and Development, 1991) is a 100% increase in agricultural land and a 130% in wooded areas (Table 2).
Of all the natural processes, agriculture is one of the main dependents on soil, and thus with the loss of fertile soil, the loss of agriculture will arise.
It is estimated that 34%, that is 360,000 hectares, of the area of the country can be cultivated. The cultivated surface currently is of some 285,000 hectares, of which 67,000 hectares are irrigated.
Nearly half of cultivated lands are on mountain slopes where terracing has allowed the prevention of erosion, but the economic value of the work is subject to question considering the substantial investments it involves and the scarcity of the retained soil.
In 1988, the most important crops and productions were: cereals, potatoes, onions, citrus, apples, viticulture, bananas, sugar beet, olive trees, tobacco, poultry breeding, cattle breeding and milk production, market and floral ga rdening (Table 3).
Lebanese agricultural products have valiantly overcome the difficulties caused by the war and maintained, until 1988, a feeble but co nstant growth of their production. However, the Lebanese agricultural sector has enjoyed no major investment in infrastructure for almost 15 years. The extension of urbanization, in essence, is eating up the agricultural land which is already of a limit ed surface in Lebanon and represents only 12% of the country's area. A large part of these lands is situated in suburbs near towns which have been the bases of urban extension in Tripoli, Jounieh, Beirut and its suburbs, Sidon, Tyre, Zahlé. One sixth of these lands is already lost and the remainder follows at a galloping speed. If strict measures are not taken and applied by the authorities, the agricultural sector would be under the threat of disappearance in Lebanon.
It is not only agrculture that is threatened in Lebanon; numerous mammals, fish, birds, and wild plants are also threatened with local extinction. There are probably many more species than the short list I will share with you, especially concerning fish. Research is desperately needed, as is constructive, national action.
Primary causes of species loss
Two factors of unequal importance affect the disappearance and endangerment of both the flora and the fauna in Lebanon: loss of habitat and hunting. The first one relates to rapid urbanization, loss of habitat, and habitat alteration. Very often, agricultural work, the use of pesticides, and the drying of swamps, such as the one at Ammiq in the Central Bekaa, made a great part of the fauna leave the region and lead to the ir disappearance. Generally, loss of habitat is the primary and overriding factor for species loss worldwide. In Lebanon, however, such is not the case for it is the savage overhunting that has become the dominant factor in the demise of species. Hunting relates to the individual behavior of the Lebanese person, hunting being here a factor of the first order in the extermination of existing races in Lebanon. The use of explosives and water pollution are additional key factors in the endangerment of the fish in Lebanon.
Significance of species
There are four prime arguments for the preservation of our fellow species One is simply that compassion demands their preservation. Other products of evolution also have a right to existence. The needs and d esires of human beings are not the only basis for ethical decisions. The second point is that other species should be preserved because of their beauty, symbolic value, or intrinsic interest: the argument from esthetics. The third argument is basically economic: preserve species X because Y dollars can be derived from it. Simply, save this specific species because of its direct economic benefit to Homo sapiens. The most important reason, however, depends upon species' indirect benefits. Other spec ies are living components of vital ecological systems (ecosystems) which provide humanity with indispensable free service, services whose substantial disruption would lead inevitably to a collapse of civilization.
Current situation of flora
In Lebanon's small territory of 10,452 Km2, nearly 2600 plant species grow in a spontaneous state. This richness of the Lebanese flora is essentially due to the general climatic conditions of the country, as well as to the multiplicity of micro-climates which favored the formations of numerous endemic species. In addition to the numerous flowers particular to Lebanon, there are species most representative of the Mediterranean basin and Western Asia. A great number of flowers were known for the first time in Lebanon and many bear its name.
Rapid urbanization and the degradation of nature are threatening the disappearance of a number of reputed and well-known flowers. Consequently, the protection of certain types is essential, among which are the Royal Osmond, the Montpellier Capillary, the Sofar Iris, and the Pallas Immortal. Due to road construction, housing, and other forms of development, numerous species are being lost. In addition, the use of chemicals to remove wild vegetation growing underneath the tre es has lead to the loss of numerous species. Other plants are increasing in their place - primarily weeds and thorn bushes.
Endangered mammal speciesThe known endangered mammal species in Lebanon are listed in Table 4.
In addition to the wolf, the Egyptian mongoose, the wild cat, and the squirrel, numerous other mammal species in Lebanon could be endangered, and could have been reduced to less-than-viable populations. For example, bats, of which many species are native to Lebanon, possibly are endangered. In the eloquent words of Merlin Tuttle, the founder of Bat Conservati on International, "caves and mines are winter bedrooms and summer nurseries for bats." Caves in Lebanon are exposed to a wide variety of pollution problems - ranging from devastating water pollution to the controversial nuclear waste problems. Furthermo re, bats are a superstitious, feared animal. On the other hand, bats are essential to keeping in balance night-flying insects, a problem to numerous agricultural crops and products. Individual bats can catch hundreds hourly, and large colonies eat tons nightly, including beetles, moths, and mosquitoes. Among the twelve bat species that are present in Lebanon are the Rousettus aegyptiacus aegyptiacus (Egyptian fruit bat), Rhinopoma microphyllum microphyllum (Greater mouse-tailed bat), Rhinolophus ferrum equinum ferrumequinum (Greater horseshoe bat), Rhinolophus hipposideros minimus (Lesser horseshoe bat), Rhinnolophus euryale judaicus (Mediterranean horseshoe bat), and the Tadarida teniotis r�pelli (European free-tailed bat)
Endangered river fish
The known endangered river fish in Lebanon are listed in Table 5. Once again, it is important to remember that many more species could be in endangered.
Water pollution is a key factor in the endangerment of the fish in Lebanon, and the use of explosives is an additional factor in the demise of sea creatures.
Current situation of birds
Lebanon is a key area for migrating birds, being both rich in number and variety of migrating birds. Millions of soaring birds, especially birds of prey, storks and pelicans, pass through or over the skies of Lebanon, especially during the autumn migration to Africa. Millions of larks migrate through the northern Beka'a valley each year, where they arethen prey to the savage hunting.
Four sites in Lebanon have been declared as important bird areas by BirdLife International: Palm islands (Jazirat el-nakhl), Ehden Forest, Barouk cedars, and Ammiq Swamp. The first three of these sites have been nominated to become national nature reserves by the United Nations protected areas proposal, which has yet to be fully approved by the Lebanese government. The fourth site, Ammiq Swamp, is the largest remaining freshwater wetland in Lebanon. Ammiq Swamp, a privately owned, yet unrestricted 280 hectare wetland, is located on the western side of the Beka'a valley. The wetland formerly coveredmost of the central and western Beka'a valley north up to Zahle, but has now been reduced toone tenth of its former area. Since 1970, farmers have been draining its margin to convert it to farmland. The water supply also suffers from over-extraction and div ersion for irrigation.
"Most of Lebanon can be considered as a huge bottleneck for migratory raptors and storks, therefore despite the intense shooting that populations of these birds endure in Lebanon, it would be meaningless to define any particular sites for protection in isolation. To conserve these species, wide-scale enforcement of the current hunting regulations is necessary" (Evans, 1994).
Endangered Bird Species
Of the fifteen known endangered bird species in Lebanon, five of them are globally threatened species: the Imperial eagle, the Corncrake, the Syrian serin, the Lesser kestrel, and the Audouin's gull (Table 7). In addition, the Yellow-Legged gull has been declining for a long time: 80 pairs in 1956; 50 birds in 1973; 15 pairs in 1975; and no birds in 1993. The Yellow-Legged gull may be extinct.
Conclusion: Future Vision
As nature is progressively impoverished, its ability to provide a moderate climate, cleanse air and water, recycle wastes, protect crops from pests, replenish soils... will be increasingly degraded. It is crucial, fundamental to our survival, that an intellectual revolution arise with regards to our role in nature. As the great environmentalist, scientist, and writer Rachel Carson said, "we still talk in terms of conquest. We still haven't become mature enough to think in terms of ourselves as a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe."
More specifically, three key sectors need to strengthened and altered. First, environmental education needs to be integrated into the education sys tem in Lebanon, from kindergarten through college. The fight for the protection of the environment begins with education. The new generation should be raised on the principles of respect and wonder for nature.
Education goes hand in hand with information, and thus research is critical. Research into pollution issues, agriculture, forestry, and marine biology are all necessary, as are the installation of permanent study plots and the enhancement of our data base.
Based upon the research, and based upon the current information, the institutional policies need to be reworked. Policies, and thus politicians and leaders, need to take the environment seriously, and laws should then be based on the integrity of the ecosystem. A holistic approach to the ecosystem is necessary in the formation of laws and policies. Ecological integrity, economic stability, and social integrity should all be considered in decision making and in the formation of laws and policies. Once educated laws are produced, they need to be enforced consistently.
To protect the deteriorating environment in Lebanon, one should help promote a general awakening in the importance of the environment in Lebanese society. It is not simply a matter of emitting some ideas but truly making people understand, on scientific grounds, that in the absence of a concrete policy in matters of the environment, the future of the natural and socio-economic heritage of Lebanon will be compromised; the future of the coming generations will be sacrificed.
Evans, M. I. (1994) Important Bird Areas in the Middle East. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 2. BirdLife International.
National Report on the Environment and Development in Lebanon. (1991) Ministry of State for the Environment. Republic of Lebanon.
Tohmé, Georges and Henriette. (1985) Ecology of Lebanon: Facts and Examples. Lebanese University. Natural Science Section 17. [published in Arabic]
Tohmé, Georges and Henriette. (1986) The Birds of Lebanon. Lebanese University . Natural Science Section 17. [published in Arabic]
Ph.D. student in Forestry, North Carolina State University.
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Water pollution is increasingly becoming a large problem that we as humans need to confront. Water is our most valuable resource. Just think of how much we humans are dependent upon clean water. Water is way more valuable than gold, what can you go a day, week, year with out, gold or water? Besides the fact that we drink the water, we use it for irrigation of farm fields, cooking, washing clothes, flushing toilets, etc. and every industrial process requires water to function. Everyone knows that the Earth's surface is covered by 70% water, so why fuss of protecting water? Only 3% of all water is fresh and drinkable and of that 3%, 75% is frozen, which leaves a grand total of only 1% of the Earth's surface water that is readily available for consumption. After taking that fact into account, one can see why the conservation and protection of our remaining water supply is so vital. Before water pollution can be stopped, the sources of the pollution must be known.
The major sources of water pollution are organic pollution, agricultural pollution, runoff, toxic waste, and thermal pollution. Organic pollution is becoming more and more pressing on the environment, because of the growing population of the world. It's a simple concept, the more people there are in one area, the more waste they will produce. For example, in a city there are so many people that the sewage plants and the environment can't take care of all of the waste and function in its usual manner. The sewage plants do their best, but the secondary discharge that gets into the water supply causes great problems. The excess waste acts as a fertilizer or food source for algae and the growth rate is uncontrollable. Everyone has been in a lake where there is a lot of dead algae on the shore and the water is clouded with algae. This situation is known as eutrophication, where algae growth is out of control and the water becomes oxygen depleted. There are natural cycles of eutrophication in the spring and fall, but the body of water can deal with those amounts. When excess waste is added to the water the body of water can no longer control the growth of the algae and the water soon becomes algae ridden and oxygen depleted. The water becomes oxygen depleted, because the dead algae goes to the bottom and uses the oxygen in the deeper water to decompose, but if there is too much dead algae all the oxygen is depleted. Oxygen from the surface doesn't reach the bottom, because the warmer water is less dense than the deeper cooler water, therefor the warmer water floats on the colder water and they never mix, much like oil and water. Soon the dead algae piles upon itself and makes the lake shallower, until it totally fills in and dries up.
Eutrophication effects all bodies of water, great and small. In the summer of 1971 at the Chicago South Water Filtration Plant on the coast of Lake Michigan, the filters were clogged with so much algae it had to be removed by hand. In the winter the turbidity(sediment in the water) was so high that the water wasn't drinkable. In a third case, the water smelled and tasted like dead fish and huge amounts of chlorine had to be added to make the water drinkable. If eutrophication can happen in lakes like Lake Michigan and Lake Erie, than no lake is safe. When eutrophication become extreme the water isn't usable any more. To stop the eutrophication of our lakes we need to devise a better system to treat sewage so it can be reused or released back into the environment without a catastrophic reaction. Currently there are some new systems that take raw sewage and convert it into usable water through biological means. The plant takes the water and feeds it to various plants. The nutrients are taken from the waste and used to grow plants. The excess water becomes clean after a four day operation. This idea is like controlled eutrophication where the plants are feed the excess nutrients to get plant growth instead of algae growth. This has only be attempted on a small scale. In the future if this could be done on a large scale the plants that are feed the waste to clean the water could be used as a food source. This idea isn't very new, infact, it is millions of years old. Basically the new sewage plant is an artificial wetland.
A wetland as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, "a lowland area, such as a marsh or swamp, that is saturated with moisture, especially when thought of as the natural habitat for wildlife." Wetlands perform a very important function in nature. First off they provide habitat for a high percentage of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals. The survival of the species depends upon the survival of the wetland. When wetlands are reduced the population of water foul, fish, and animals reduces drastically. Not only are they just a home for the animals, they serve as a purification system. Water moves slowly through the wetland and the soil and the plants pick up the nutrients and contaminants and clean the water. They serve as a large filter, dirty water passes into the wetland and clean water is the final result. Wetlands also serve as water retention and flood prevention areas. If there were no wetlands all the water that is in the wetlands and the rain and snow would flood into our cities and neighborhoods. All the excess water is held in the wetlands were it is purified and slowly dispersed. Wetland act as an erosion control along coastlines and prevent wind erosion. They also safeguard that the soil will keep its nutrients. Wetlands are economically important also. Over 95% of the fish and shellfish that the US commercial industry harvest are dependent on the wetlands. Sport fishermen spend large amounts of money on fishing equipment and licensees. Valuable timber is harvested from the many forested wetland. Fur bearing mammals and alligators are harvested in wetlands. The vegetation of the wetlands can also be harvested. The US hasn't taken advantage of this option yet, but other countries such as China do. As one can see there are countless reasons for the preservation of wetlands. Wetlands need to be protected and preserved for the future. Another type of water pollution is one most people don't really think about, runoff.
Rainfall, snowmelt and irrigation cleanse the surface of the Earth. Any pollutants that are on the ground will eventually come in contact with water. So what? The water is just cleaning the streets and everything it comes in contact with, right? Wrong, the water picks up everything that is in it's path. This can range from pieces of food to motor oil to fertilizer or any pollutants that might lie on the millions of roads and expressways of the US. Now the polluted water makes its down fall into the ground water, which intern ends up in nearby streams, rivers, and lakes. This means that any pollutant left on the ground will eventually end up as contamination of the water supply. We need this water to drink and we use the rivers and lakes as recreation. Water runoff presents a major problem.
Polluted water runoff is hard to calculate, but some attribute as high as 80% to runoff. Most people think that only the big companies are to blame for the poor quality of water, but that isn't so. The large companies are regulated by the Clean Water Act. There is no way to control the amount of pollution that is taken by water runoff. Police can not find everyone that has spread their old motor oil on their driveway to keep the dust down or keep track of how often people fertilize their lawn. This is much more difficult to detect and prevent. This comes down to each persons own values and environmental values. Each individual is responsable for their actions and there is no way to police that. The average person doesn't cause any large quantities of water pollution, it comes from an unlikely source.
Larger sources of runoff pollutants come from farms and pastures. On the farms all the excess fertilizer gets into the streams and ends up in the lakes. When the fertilizer reaches the lake or stream, it cause eutrophication to occur. This means that less fish can survive and the water will go from clear to cloudy. No one wants to swim in water that you can't see your feet in. Another problem farms present is the loss of soil and sediment in rivers. The precious soil is stolen by erosion and carried off in the rivers. The lose of the soil is bad enough, but the horrible part is that along with the soil goes all of the fertilizer, pesticides and herbicide used on the fields. In other words, any chemical put on the crops to prevent animals or bugs from eating them ends up in the water we drink. In the 1960's and 1970's the pesticide DDT was heavily used. This chemical was applied on the farms and runoff took it to the lakes. The plants absorbed the DDT and then the herbivores ate the plants. The carnivores ate the herbivores and the second carnivore(Humans or birds) eat them. As the DDT moves up the food chain it intensifies and the concentration is very dense by the time it reaches the carnivores. What goes on the farm ends up in our food, one way or the other.
On ranches the problem becomes the excess of excretion from the cattle.(25,000 cattle produce 300,000 gallons of waste a day) All of this urine and manure goes straight to the ground water and right back to the rivers and lakes. At least the human waste is sent to a sewage system, which does some good. This cattle waste is being sent straight to the water supply, untreated. In Oregon, Tallamook Bay is closed to oyster growing at certin times of the year, because of the high levels of contamination from the cattle. Where do we draw the line?
Polluted runoff is hard to control. Currently there are efforts being taken to stop polluted runoff from entering the water supply, but they are all on a voluntary basis. Most people will help, but what of the others? Legislation needs to be made to enforce what some will not do. Runoff water pollution is serious and it effects everyone. Thermal pollution is simmilar to runoff in the fact that no one ever gives it any thought.
Thermal pollution occurs when the water is heated up by power plants. Fossil fuel power plants, Neucular power plants and hydrolic dams heat the water. The industrial process requires large quanities of cooling water and water runnign through danm turbines is heated. After the water is heated, it is then discharged into lakes and rivers. Certin types of fish, animals, and plankton die if the water temperature is raised to much. Fish can't spwan when the water temperature is to high. If temperatures are hot enough the life in the water becomes minimal. Also, when the water is warmed, it promotes the growth of algae. With high concentratiuons of algae, the problem of eutrophication is introduced again. Neucular power plants cause thermal pollution, but they also cause radioactive waste. Little is known about radioactive waste, but it is know that small amounts of this material can destroy life in large quanities of water. There is one last source of pollution, toxic waste.
Toxic waste comes form a great variety of industrial plants. In mining opperations and many industrial processes heavy metals such as lead, copper, cadium, iron and others are released into the water. These heavy metals accumulate in fish and make them harmful to anything that eats them and to the fish itself. In pulp-mill paper production, a combination of organic waste and toxic waste combind to cause horriable effects. As mentioned before, DDT is a toxic waste that ravashises any environment it comes in contact with. PCB's are anothe rtoxic waste that are byproducts of many industrial processes. PCB's work in the same way as DDT by concentrating as it moves up the food chain until it is highly toxic by the time it reaches Humans and other animals high on the food chain.
Water is a necessity of life and it needs to be conserved and protected. >From all of the above pollutants, our water supply is in peril. If we value life as we know it, we need to change our way of life and look at water in a different way.
Crossland, Janice. Water Pollution, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc, New York, New York, 1974.
Gosselink, James J. Wetlands, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1993.
Larkin, P.A. Freashwater Pollution Canadian Style, McGill-Queens's University Press, Montreal, 1974.
Mitchel, John G. "Our Polluted Waters." National Geographic, February 1996: pp.108-105.
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