This is the fifth and final article in a series
about Nonpoint Source Pollution (NPSP). In the last four issues of
The Water Line we introduced the concept of NPSP, discussed urban
sources, rural sources, and the impacts that we, as individuals, have.
Up to this point we have focused on pollution that comes off of the
landscape. With this last article we turn our eyes towards the sky
as well as the water.
Hopefully everyone reading this is familiar with the term watershed.
If not, a lake's watershed is the area of land that drains into the
lake (either by flowing over land or through the soil). A new term for
all of us to learn is AIRSHED. The EPA defines an airshed as the geographical
area that emits 75% of the air pollution reaching a given waterbody.
Airsheds are calculated through mathematical models and are therefore
grounded more in theory than an actual physical delineation. The concept
is further complicated by the fact that not all air pollution behaves
the same. A lake's airshed for Pollutant A may be twice the size as
the airshed for Pollutant B.
||How does air pollution get into the lake? The answer - ATMOSPHERIC
DEPOSITION! Airborne pollutants can fall as a wet deposition (with
rain or snow) or as dry deposition (as dust or a gas). This deposition
can occur directly onto the water surface or onto the watershed,
where the pollutant is carried into the lake with runoff.
Air pollutants that are the greatest threat to our lakes and streams
fall into five categories; nitrogen, mercury, other metals, pesticides,
and combustion emissions (pollutants from incinerators). While there
are natural sources for many of these pollutants, human activities
account for most of the air pollution in these categories. The Lakes
of Missouri Volunteer Program measures the amount of nitrogen in
lake water and has addressed terrestrial inputs in the past. Now
let's take a brief look at nitrogen pollution from the air.
Atmospheric deposition can be a significant source of nitrogen into
a waterbody. Studies estimate that 21% of the nitrogen pollution entering
Chesapeake Bay comes from the air. Although the air we breathe is 78%
nitrogen (N2), it is ammonia (NH3) and nitrogen oxides (NO#) that are
considered pollution. A major source of atmospheric nitrogen pollution
is the burning of fossil fuels. Nitrogenous air pollution can make a
waterbody more productive, causing algal blooms and decreased water
clarity (the same problems that are associated with terrestrial nitrogen
pollution). Airborne nitrogen can also, under the right conditions,
fall as acid rain in the form of nitric acid (sulfur is the other major
contributor to acid rain). Acid rain can impact a waterbody by leading
to changes in pH. Shifts in a lake or stream's pH can harm aquatic biota.
Threats to water quality don't just come from the land and air. They
also come directly from those of us who are out on the lake! Millions
of people regularly enjoy recreational boating. All of these boats can
and do have impacts on water quality. NPSP associated with recreational
boating includes chemicals from cleaning compounds, petroleum products,
sewage, and shoreline disturbances.
|Boat cleaning products can contain chlorine,
ammonia, and phosphates. Chlorine and ammonia can be harmful to
some aquatic life forms, while phosphates, as well as ammonia, can
lead to increased algal production. Petroleum products find their
way into sediments where they can persist and accumulate, causing
harm to bottom dwelling creatures. Sewage...its sewage, do I really
need to go into why this isn’t desirable in our lakes? Shoreline
disturbances (such as wakes created by boating) can negatively impact
plant growth in shallow areas and cause erosion along the shore.
This leads to more soil material and nutrients in the water as well
as a loss of aquatic habitat.
While the impacts from one single boat may seem negligible, the combined
impact of hundreds or thousands of boats can be significant. Use of
non-toxic cleaning products, careful refueling, proper engine maintenance,
proper disposal of sewage, and lake-friendly boating practices (i.e.
limited wake in shallow or near shore areas) can go a long way to reduce
We are all part of the solution
Hopefully this series on Non-Point Source Pollution has made you more
aware of the many threats that face our lakes and streams. We have come
a long way since the passing of the Clean Water Act. Gone are the days
of burning rivers and a biologically dead Lake Erie. Regulation of Point
Source Pollution has made a great impact, but we are only half-way there.
Nonpoint Source Pollution, which is difficult to regulate, is the next
focus. If we are to make future gains we must educate ourselves, our
children, and our neighbors. Everyone must take an active role and the
efforts must start on the community level.
Evaluate your impacts, educate those around you (lead by example!),
and become active. Our goal is to leave our lakes, rivers and streams
fishable and swimable for the next generation.
Back to the Winter
Brought to you by the Lakes of
Missouri Volunteer Program