Water is an essential resource for human survival. Not just because our body is made up of 60% water, but this resource is essential to producing food, clothing, and many everyday products, and even computers.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 780 million people around the world (11% of the world's population) lack safe drinking water at home, with a further 144 million relying on surface water alone.
If estimates by the World Wildlife Organization are accurate, by the year 2025, two-thirds of the global population may face some form of water shortages.
There is an urgent need for governments and others to understand that clean water is essential. Contaminated water can transmit many diseases, such as cholera, typhoid, dysentery, polio, etc. Unsafe water may lead to between two and four million deaths every year.
While 70% of our planet is covered with water, only 2.5% of the total water is fresh. Out of this 2.5%, only 1% of the freshwater is easily accessible, and much of this is trapped in glaciers and snowfields. So, practically, only 0.007% of freshwater is readily accessible.
Contamination of water
Many substances that are hazardous to human, plant, and animal health can enter water supplies. Chemical waste from factories is sometimes dumped into rivers and lakes. Pesticides and fertilizers applied to farmland enter surface water and groundwater. Hazardous liquids like gasoline can leak from underground storage tanks. Pollution can also wash out of the air, oil and other chemicals can run off roads and other surfaces and wash into rivers and lakes.
Contaminants such as chemicals, nutrients, and heavy metals are all carried from farms, factories, and cities by streams and rivers, and from there out to sea. Harmful micro-organisms, such as bacteria, enter the water in areas that lack proper sewage treatment facilities. Floods and other natural disasters can also negatively affect water quality and lead to contamination.
And, as water becomes contaminated, entire ecosystems are also affected, both directly and indirectly.
Importance of water quality for the environment
Maintaining water quality is crucial to preserving the goals of sustainable development. Clean drinking water means lower rates of illness and disease, fewer days of work and school lost, money saved on medical care, and improvement in living standards. Making drinking water easily accessible in the home also means less time lost to water collection — a difficult and time-consuming job that usually falls to women and girls, in many parts of the world.
When aquifers are over-exploited, salt water can seep into the water table, making the water unusable for drinking and farming. Wetlands, which act as natural water filters, are also in decline around the world.
In fact, the United Nations considers universal access to clean water a basic human right, and an essential step towards improving living standards worldwide.
Access to safe water also has a great role in addressing the developmental challenges, such as human health, food, and energy security, urbanization and industrial growth, and even climate change. There is also a strong connection between clean water and safe food.
Good water quality cannot be compromised because it affects not only individual beings but also the ecosystem as a whole. So, how can you test the water quality?
Testing water quality
With growing research, drinking water standards are becoming more intense. However, there is no single definition of 'clean water.' There are different ways to test for water quality. Generally, characteristics such as pH, dissolved oxygen, levels of bacteria and heavy metals, and turbidity are measured. Turbidity measures the total number of suspended particles in water.
These tests offer a general idea on the condition of the water source.
Individuals can also use a water test kit to assess water quality at home. There are many easy-to-use water test kits available in the market. However, most of these will not measure levels of contaminants, such as heavy metals or bacteria. For this, you will often need to send samples to a lab.
Once it is determined that the water quality is subpar, you can think of methods for water purification.
Treatment of water
Water treatment is used to purify contaminated water. There are many methods for treating water to make it safe to drink.
One of the most common is coagulation and flocculation, which is used to remove color, turbidity, algae and other microorganisms from surface waters. A chemical coagulant is added to the water, causing the formation of a precipitate (floc) which traps the impurities. The floc is then separated from the treated water by sedimentation and filtration. Filters are also used to remove turbidity and algae.
Chemical treatments include altering the pH to prevent the growth of micro-organisms and to remove hardness. Aeration and adsorption on activated carbon are used to remove bad taste, and odors and nitrates are removed using ion-exchange. A wide variety of other water purification methods are used. One of the cheapest and simplest is to add chlorine to the water.
With the help of various treatment mechanisms, water can be made more acceptable for regular use, but these cost money, and many require water purification systems.
In the end, we need to care about water quality because we have no other choice. It affects us both directly as well as indirectly.
With a growing population, this situation is only like to get worse. Global water demand is projected to increase by 55% by 2050, mainly because of growing demands from manufacturing and energy production. Therefore, proper steps to mitigate the effects on water supplies must be undertaken now before it is too late.
Water pollution causes irreversible damage to the environment. It is time to take action at both international and national levels to improve the overall water quality around the world.