This year, my school has had the theme of water. We have studied the water cycle, learned about water resources and most recently, read about water pollution. I used to picture water pollution as a pretty simple phenomenon.
I thought most of it was industrial pollution dumped into the waterways where it would kill fish, aquatic plants and hurt the ecosystem. It turns out that the issue is more complex than that; there are many causes of water pollution and they all contribute to environmental degradation in different ways.
One of the things I didn’t understand about water pollution was how much it can change the local environment. I always thought of water pollution as poisoning the water, but some sorts of pollution actually encourage plant growth.
For example, farm runoff enriches the water with minerals, causing algae and other plants to grow. These algae, in turn, limit the amount of sunlight that can penetrate through the water and reduce the oxygen levels, killing fish. By helping some organisms grow, the pollution damages other organisms that are native to the waterways.
Another thing I didn’t realize about water pollution was how much of it is passive. For example, in my community all of the storm sewers drain directly into the river. When it rains, water washes litter, oil from cars and even sewage into the storm sewers, causing them to pollute rivers. Just by virtue of living near this sort of sewer system, we are contributing to water pollution.
I’ve also learned how much we can do about water pollution by being active in our neighbourhoods and communities. Our class has recently done a volunteer program where we go around, labelling storm sewers with helpful signs.
The Signs tell people not to dump oil and other hazardous household chemicals into the storm drains. Many people don’t realize that there is a difference between storm drains and the sewers that carry waste away from your house. By educating people about these differences, our class helps to cut down on the amount of untreated pollution that is dumped directly into the rivers.
Next week, we are going to learn more about water pollution and how to fight it by volunteering with a river cleanup. Our class is taking a trip to a river where we will pick up trash from the shores and shallows. We’re actually starting at a beach near to my house, which means I’ll be able to enjoy a cleaner beach thanks to our volunteer crew. It’s nice to be able to simultaneously help the community and help myself!