Does America have a water crisis?

Scientists studied the state of the river system and it isn't looking so good.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

There's quite a bit of water pollution in the United States and Europe.

In a study published in Nature, researchers found that 80 percent of people on the planet live near rivers - and those waterways are in crisis.

Not only will the poor state of the rivers affect our water supply, it will affect the plants and animals in it.

University of Wisconsin at Madison researchers found that “pollution, water diversion, and introduced species” were the main culprits behind the threatened river system.

In a unique look at biodiversity and water security, the researchers mapped the water pollution.

Yes, humans have always been attracted to water and built entire communities along rivers.

Yet, we continue to pollute it.

The researchers used computer models to map out what the perceived threats were and ranked them accordingly.

The process can be repeated over and over again to suit any government or regional needs. So the more data, the better.

If the river system is the lifeline to our planet, the map shows some clear signs of trouble. We depend on rivers to renew our water supply.

Not surprisingly, the rivers in the best shape are the remote ones. Water coming out of the Arctic water is good.

Pollution comes from so many different sources. The result is fish in Colorado changing genders, traces of drugs coming in through our faucets, and a certain superbug swimming in the Indian water supply.

Coal-fired power plants release mercury into the atmosphere and pollute nearby water supplies. All of these unwanted chemicals are making their way into our river supply.

However, the study didn't get a grasp on all of these possible threats. However, the researchers said there are a "slew of chemicals flowing through our waterways."

It's not all doom from here. Water needs to be better managed. Agriculture uses up to 90 percent of the water supply. If all our water goes to producing enough food to feed the world's population, then there won't be enough for the fish and plants to survive. With the help of satellites and sensors, water can be managed better.

UW-Madison's professor Peter McIntyre said in a statement, "What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe. Americans tend to think water pollution problems are pretty well under control, but we still face enormous challenges."

Photo: Barry Carlsen

Related in SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards