Thursday, October 05, 2006

algae bloom

Lene, at counting petals, posted some pictures of algae bloom, which isn't as pretty as it sounds.

Some bodies of water are naturally very rich in nutrients because of their geographical location (remember the bad water pioneers encountered when crossing the prairies and the deserts of North America?), and some algae bloom can also occur naturally, seasonally.

But more and more, we are seeing algae forming in our waterways, lakes, and oceans to such an extent, that fish and other water-life are dying, and even many of the human activities(swimming, fishing, eating seafood, etc.) once enjoyed on these waterways are threatened. The hand of Man/Woman is again the culprit in the imbalances that cause algae bloom.

Some of the issues that are threatening our water supply are:
1. urban sprawl; (pavement and concrete contribute to the run-off of poluted water, and the further away people live, the more they drive, contributing to the emission of more polutants)
2. loss of natural habitats, especially wetlands, which are critical to maintaining the health of our waterways;
3. golf courses, which use large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides to maintain the grass and which also destroy the types of plant-life that slows the runoff of water;
4. feed lots and factory farms, which are grossly inefficient in containing and processing the animal wastes produced;
5. the use of pesticides and fertilizers by farmers and urban households, of which more than 80% is not taken up by the plants, but washes into the waterways and the groundwater system, or via the storm sewers, ends up in our waterways, lakes and oceans;
6. gravel pits and other diversions of water, which destroy the natural watersheds and open up the groundwater systems to contamination from surface runoff;
7. groundwater extraction, which in some areas is so unrestricted that whole aquefers are threatened(in parts of the U.S. midwest where vast irrigation systems depend on deep wells, a race is on to dig wells before a grandfather clause kicks in, and no further wells can be drilled).
8. industrial wastes (no need to say more)
9. the privatization of water (like clean air, I don't believe clean water is a commodity to be bought and sold, anymore than rainbows and sunsets...)

Sometimes I'm asked, because I love gardening, what and when I recommend as lawn treatment. I irritate the hell out of some of my acquaintances by saying: don't spray, don't treat, don't have a lawn! How often, even in municipalities where supposedly the cosmetic spraying of lawns is against the law, do I see (and worse: SMELL) whole subdivisions where apparently lush green lawns sport the little signs of some commercial lawn-spraying company. Often, I even see the young employees (it is usually a young fellow) spraying away, in a wind, with no protective gear on at all.

With a long list of horrors that these chemicals are known to cause, especially in young children, I can't for the life of me understand what justifies their continued use. And they don't stay put, doing whatever they are supposed to do only on your lawn (or field or garden). Most of them wash away and ultimately end up in our drinking water. Go ahead. Ask your local water treatment plant if they treat the water for any of the chemicals that have ended up there from your lawn!

And the next time you are grossed out by the green slime that coats the rocks at the shore and washes up onto and stinks up your favorite beach, blame yourself! If you must keep up with the joneses, or feel pressured by your neighbours to conform to the "green lawn" syndrome, heaven help us all.

Environment Canada's Freshwater Website
Environment Canada Freshwater: Accelerated aquatic plant growth: too much, too fast
Natural Resources Defense Council: Clean Water
Public Citizen: Water for All Campaign
The Ocean Conservancy, article Thinking Downstream
The Sierra Club on Clean Water


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