Clean water is necessary for every single person on Earth. In America, over half of our drinking water comes from nearby rivers and streams, with the average person using close to 100 gallons a day at home for drinking, bathing, washing the dishes and watering the plants. The Delaware River watershed provides this needed water to over 15 million people.
There are many threats to our water resources. Plastic waste is a main contributor to pollution that harms aquatic plant and animal species. Dams and channels disrupt the natural flows of rivers and discourage native species from thriving. Contaminated runoff encourages harmful bacteria and pathogens to grow, elevating the levels of phosphorus, nitrogen and chloride in our waterways to unhealthy standards.
Protecting and conserving our water, both in the home and outdoors, are critical to the health of our planet and ourselves. And fortunately, there are many simple ways to keep it clean. Together, let’s ensure that everyone has access to safe water.
Understand the source of your water…
Local rivers, streams, reservoirs and other aquatic bodies are source water, the provider of drinking water to local communities. In the United States, 9 out of 10 people receive their water resources from a public system that uses source water. These systems have federal, state and supplier regulations to ensure it remains safe and clean.
Contaminants can make their way into our water when the infrastructure is aged or overtaxed by flooding from major storms, which is especially prevalent now due to climate change. You can have your tap water tested by contacting your local water supplier or department; it is usually free for the customer.
Well water — which comes from the ground — is not regulated, since limits on contaminant levels are only enforced in public systems. Pennsylvania has an estimated one million private wells in use for drinking water. If you have well water, the Department of Environmental Protection recommends getting it tested regularly for pathogens and nitrates and monitoring the pH levels. Penn State’s Agricultural Analytical Services Laboratory also offers a robust testing service for well-water users.
…And where it goes, too.
Down the drain or into the sewer, a lot of our water ends up in nearby waterways, streams and rivers. While it travels, the water picks up contaminants, trash and pollutants and carries it all to the nearest body of water. This means our outdoor activities, such as washing the car, mowing the lawn or spraying pests can have a real impact on the whole waterway’s ecological health, including the birds and plants living alongside it.
Do your part! Reduce pesticide use in your garden and properly collect any chemicals from your various tools and machines rather than dumping it in the grass. Remove trash and litter debris, including leaves and grass clippings, from the outdoor drain grates to ensure the water runs cleanly to its destination.
Keep nondegradable items — such as wipes, paper towels, pills, sanitation products or hazardous chemicals — out of the toilet and sink. These materials can disrupt the sewage treatment process and end up littering our waterways. They can also clog or erode your pipes, which may require a costly fix. Instead, dispose of these materials in the garbage.
Use the EPA’s site How’s my Waterway to discover your watershed and learn more about where your water may end up.
Reduce plastic waste.
Plastic water bottles create an enormous amount of litter — 18 billion pounds of plastic waste ends up in the ocean each year with devastating results on wildlife. And unfortunately, Americans use an estimated 50 million bottles a year, significantly contributing to the plastic waste issue. The water inside these bottles, which is often drawn from local rivers and streams, is also full of microplastics leeched out from the bottle, with levels 50% higher than tap water, according to recent research.
Thankfully, this problem has an easy fix: simply consider a reusable mug or cup and drink filtered tap instead.
Plant some plants.
A single acre of wetlands can hold up to 1.5 million gallons of rain or melting snow, while a single mature tree can keep over 4,000 gallons of water out of the sewer each year, according to American Rivers. One of the best long-term solutions to protecting and conserving our water is to simply plant some plants. Native trees and wildflowers will offer more bang for your buck, as these species are cold tolerant, pollinator attractive, environmentally adaptable and evolutionarily engineered to promote a thriving ecosystem.
For those who live in urban environments, creating green roofs or adding planters to the sidewalk are cost-effective ways to expand the capacity of sewer systems and reduce the runoff flowing into our waterways.
Make your voice and your vote count!
Safeguarding our water requires innovation and constant action. As climate change creates unpredictable disruptions and accessibility issues across the nation, we need to make sure our leaders keep our rivers, streams and lakes clean for everyone.
The Clean Water Act of 1972 and 1977, developed with critical input from Academy scientists, was designed to protect the nation’s waters from pollution and destruction. But there are many more proposals that need your help and your vote. Research your state’s potential candidates and their positions on protecting the environment. Stay up to date with environmental alerts from Penn Future and contact your lawmakers about issues you feel are important. You can also write to your politicians and let them know that safe, clean water is a priority.
Join a cleanup.
Get outside and make an impact! Find a local organization or group and join their river or stream cleanup. Removing trash and waste has an immediate effect on the health of both the waterway and our own.
American Rivers supports a national network of cleanups. Locally, the Tookany/Tacony-Frankford Watershed Partnership is heavily involved in keeping Philly’s streams and creeks clean and pristine. United by Blue, a local sustainability company, also hosts various community cleanups.
Wherever you live, there are sure to be many others who are keeping our rivers, streams, lakes and oceans healthy by cleaning up. Do some research and consider joining today!