Friday, September 20, 2013

Erosion: An Underestimated Environmental Impact

Erosion: An Underestimated Environmental Impact
Prepared by Julie Bowen [] - minor additions by Mr. Brian Oram

2013 has seen a number of exciting, pro-active environmental projects arrive in various communities across the country, from the Blue Mountain treeplanting project on the Appalachian Trail in Pennsylvania to the recent “National Protect Your Groundwater Day” held on Sept 10. With a focus on engaging direct public participation, these events aim to demonstrate how diligent involvement from the community can play a crucial role in protecting and preserving the quality of groundwater. Projects such as tree-planting are especially productive, with the great lungs of the earth performing several vital functions: filtering air quality, improving the integrity of the soil, and protecting against erosion – one of the most destructive environmental problems which regions across the US currently face, and a surprisingly major factor in contaminating water.

Webinar - 10/08/2013: LIVE INTERACTIVE WEBINAR, Intro to Environmental Impact Statements, Tuesday, October 8, 2013, 1pm-4pm EST

The Nature of Erosion

Undeniably, erosion is a natural process which has helped to carve out the beautiful eccentricities of our planet, shaping the complex networks of rivers, lakes and oceans and contributing to the myriad of biodiversity which has enthralled geologists and biologists for centuries. Yet it is because of the natural force powering erosion which makes it such a devastating consequence when human action comes into play; in a recent report by the Environmental Working Group (EWA), soil losses in Iowa alone amounted to twice the sustainable level for the land, increasing yearly. Inevitably leading to substantial losses for farmers, it’s also important to calculate how it impacts the surrounding eco-system, working its way into our well and through our faucets.

Sediment Deposition

Since the 1970’s, stormwater runoff and soil erosion has been identified as one of the primary causes of water pollution, according to the North Dakota Department of Health’s reporton the “Environmental Effects of Erosion on Water Quality”. Particularly after a violent storm, rock and soil sediments are carried by the wind and rain and deposited into lakes, rivers, and other water sources. While fast-flowing water is better able to clear away these particles, the relatively still waters of lakes and ponds allow the sediments a place to grow, producing a high quantity of algae-promoting nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen (called eutrophication). Large amounts of algae prevent light from nurturing the water, reducing the amount of photosynthesis and decreasing oxygen which is essential for aquatic life. Algae growth – especially the fatal algae blooms – and wildlife decay contribute to the amount of pollution in the water, but this natural process isn’t nearly as harmful as sediments which have been carried over from construction sites.

Impact on Public Health
When erosion scours construction sites, chemicals from debris, paint and concrete are carried to nearby sewer systems and rivers, disrupting the cleanliness of the water, interfering with the ecosystems, and placing pressure on filtration plants to manage the excess of pollutants. Just like the distribution of grease, oil, metals, pesticides (as well as genetically-modified particles) and other toxins which also seep into the system, proper monitoring is essential for keeping track of the content in the water to prevent the spread of water-related diseases like giardia, norovirus, and others. Equally problematic is the over-compensation of filtration processes such as chlorination and fluoridation of the water, which also results in several health complications and has fueled heavy public involvement in the public water system, including extensive research projects funded by governments and charities. The wealth of information available to the public is made ready by various authoritative sources regarding the complexity of pathogens and other illnesses which are present in polluted water, as part of the growing movement in environmental and health awareness.

Measures to Prevent Erosion and Protect Water
Just as the Blue Mountain tree planting project is a pro-active step which will directly involve the community’s role in environmental awareness and carries the direct impact of filtering water, air and soil as well as acting as a buffer against wind and stormwater run-off, there are several other effective means to counter erosion. While recognizing erosion as a natural process, the proper monitoring and maintenance of construction sites, regulated deforestation and conscientious farming, sustainable industries (particularly tourism) and a careful nurturing of the land are just a few of the ways in which people can benefit economically as well as ecologically. First and foremost, educating the public and encouraging their involvement as well as offering a multitude of resources like the ones provided by Carbon County Groundwater Guardian is key to taking measures which ensure the safety and purity of our most precious resource and has encourage the implementation of a Sustainable Design Approach.

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