American water supplies are in trouble. Whether it is the nation’s rivers or its groundwater, they face surging environmental pressure and contamination. The threats are many. The evidence showing the impacts may surprise you.
Agriculture and Water
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture is the main source of water pollution in the United States. Chemicals on farmlands enter waterways through surface runoff. Currently, the EPA regulates over 20 chemicals directly tied to the agricultural industry. Many of these substances increase the risk for developing cancer.
Deep Injection Wells
About 32 states use deep injection wells for toxic waste disposal. In 2010, over 7,500 violations were issued nationwide for a variety of integrity issues. If a well fails, contamination of groundwater, the source of nearly 40 percent of the nation’s drinking water, may become polluted.
There were 449,000 natural gas wells in the United States in 2007. That figure is expected to increase by over 7 percent a year as demand increases with falling natural gas prices. Without industry-wide regulations, the risk to the nation’s public water supplies is sure to increase.
Lack of Regulation
These two sources of water contamination have one thing in common–lack of regulation by the Clean Water Act. Fracking is specifically exempt. Most farms are exempt as well. The states lack the authority to enforce what would seem to be common sense.
Adding to these woes is the cost of safe water. USDA economists estimate that it costs nearly $5 billion annually to clean drinking water from just one of the major agricultural pollutants, nitrate. The EPA continues to regulate pesticides that have been banned because some persist in the environment. These types of chemicals pose additional long-term threats.
The Environmental Cost
The cost of pollution is steep. American Rivers, a non-profit dedicated to clean up and preservation of the nation’s waterways, estimates that 40 percent of the country’s rivers and streams are too polluted for recreation or drinking. The problems have split over to the estuaries and bays, with about two-thirds suffering from some degree of degradation.
While the environmental focus has been on global warming, a more immediate threat exists to the nation’s water supply. Without an all-out effort, water shortages may become the next global crisis.