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Water Contamination and the Importance of Water Conservation

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The government states that, ‘Since 1972, the EPA’s Clean Water Act has prohibited the discharge of any pollutant to waters of the United States unless the discharge is authorized by a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.’ (Stormwater Authority, nd). The EPA is the Environmental Protection Agency and its mission is ‘to protect human health and the environment’ (EPA, nd). Over 40% of section 319 Clean Water Acts have been used by farmers and agriculturalists to control pollution (EPA, 2005). This percentage is surprisingly low for the amount of rural land in the United States and its large amount of sediment pollution. It makes one wonder why there is not a set of requirements that must be met by all farmers to help protect our environment. Every state has their own regulations regarding the discharge and control of storm water runoff, as required by Federal Law. This includes obtaining a Storm Water Discharge permit and providing a Consent Special Order under the authority of Va. Code § 10.1-603.2:1.1 (VSMP, 2009). They also have strict guidelines regarding the enforcement and judiciary review of those who break the regulations. Each set of requirements differ from area to area, but they all have a common theme: protect the environment as much as possible without being detrimental to businesses and state budgets. The sad truth is that most states put the issue of environmental conservation as a low priority, which leads to the reason why storm water regulations are so strict, but harmful to our environment. This assessment is somewhat contradictory. If storm water regulations are strict, then why are there no positive results in the reduction of water pollution? The term strict is being used loosely. Yes, the storm water requirements and regulations are being met, but they are the bare minimum. Unfortunately, they only allow for the minimum. Nothing else. The purpose of this strategy is to save money. The practice and application of BMPs can be very costly and if they are not carried out in the correct, intended manner, then they could deplete a local community’s budget. No one takes the time to consider the long-term effects of BMPs and their ability to reduce the amount of government spending on the treatment of sediment pollution and waterway damage (about $16 billion annually). This is why states write them off and make sure their storm water regulations don’t allow for improvements to urban and rural areas. Making simple changes such as allowing easier access to construction permits of rain gardens in urban areas can make a large difference.

One of the most innovative and eco-friendly methods to reducing sediment runoff is a rain garden. Rain gardens are growing increasingly popular in communities all over the United States. Many countries are becoming involved in this effective BMP, including Europe, which has an entire area in the center of Sheffield, UK, made up of environmentally friendly gardens. This was all in an effort to regenerate the city’s heritage: industrialism run on the power of water (Dunnett, 2007). Rain gardens capture storm water runoff, and the sediments and nutrients are ‘filtered’ by the plants. This leaves clean water to freely flow into the surrounding area. A rain garden can be thought of as a cycle. Everything benefits from each other. The plants flourish from the nutrients and sediment in the storm water; the runoff is no longer polluted and will not harm the environment or human health; wildlife benefit from a new, natural habitat; and the garden itself can be very aesthetically pleasing to a community area. It doesn’t require much maintenance, and is very easy for an average person to build. There are many other BMPs that do not require a lot of effort (planting trees on a hill and grass alongside roads, to name a few), but can have positive impacts on various elements of water pollution and communities’ well-being.

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As of today, many universities and government research facilities are studying the causes and effects of water pollution. One great example of this is the University of Virginia. They spend a great deal of funding on research projects annually. Currently, the Environmental Engineering department is working on a storm water runoff research project to help aid them in the rewriting of Virginia’s storm water regulations. The new regulations can allow for best management practices that can help reduce sediment pollution, and ultimately, many other aspects of life. Some of these changes are already taking effect. The Virginia Stormwater Management Program, or VSMP, “was developed to protect citizens, property and natural resources from unmanaged storm water runoff.’ (VSMP, 2009). The purpose of this program is to control sediment pollution and erosion as a result of storm water runoff. When contractors are constructing buildings, they may be required to get a permit from the Department of Conservation (DCR) issued by their localities. A permit may also be required to discharge storm water from a construction site. Because of the Clean Water Act and other Federal regulations, they have been incorporated into the VSMP permit regulations. The regulations’ intended purpose is to manage the quality and quantity of storm water runoff on construction and watershed sites.

With regard to the quality of storm water runoff, pervious and impervious surfaces collect hundreds of pollutants such as animal waste, bacteria, oil and grease, sediment, litter, pesticides and deposits from airborne pollutants. These hazardous materials can easily enter our commercial waterways, making our water sources unsafe for human use. The quantity of storm water is increased when impervious structures replace meadows and woodlands. Without nature to absorb the rainfall, its runs off on paved sidewalks and concrete rooftops, collecting the said pollutants. The VSMP regulations hope to manage these factors with respect to building permits and government requirements (VSMP, 2009).

Many people do not seem to realize how important water is to our survival and progress. Every country, business, community, and individual use it, and it affects all aspects of life. When the quality of water decreases, everything it affects fall behind it. That’s why it is crucial that our world start managing our water consumption and handling. There is no single source we can target, so it will not be an easy issue to tackle. This can not be possible until local, state, and national storm water regulations are altered to allow for changes in our lifestyle. With the interest of money, most storm water regulations are very strict, not authorizing conservation practices or environmentally friendly systems; anything that can deplete a local community’s budget. All the researchers in the world can come up with the best management practices ever developed, but if they aren’t allowed to take effect, what good will they do? Building permits regarding the construction of BMPs must be easier to attain. The world is too afraid to change. If there is some chance that something can go wrong, most people won’t even consider it, but if no one strives for a change, nothing will ever be improved. We need to take a chance on our strive to improve the Earth. Our environment is in danger because of us, and it is up to us to fix it.

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