Floods Or Droughts, Water Quality Is Still An Issue

My summer was full of craziness so I’m catching up and posting my columns that have run in the paper for the last few weeks. Some, like this one, are a little off time-wise but still have great information in them. Take a peek and we will get back to regular schedule soon! 

This year we had the wettest fourth of July on record. We are seeing rains well into summer, which is great for my garden (minus the high winds and hail) but does create a false sense that rain will always fall. Our local area is known for intense flooding in the spring followed by drought through the summer. This year our pattern is different than the norm so far, but don’t forget the water can dry up almost as quickly as it came.

These high rains have caused large amounts of runoff to enter our river system, making the bacteria counts too high for safe swimming in the Trinity River. Attendees of the popular “Rockin the River” event in Forth Worth were sidelined and cautioned to stay out of the water. Storm water washes over our landscape carrying with it everything on the ground including oil, fertilizer, agricultural manure, pet waste, and sediment right into our river systems. The small biologic material in our rivers (crustaceans, bacteria, plants) can naturally clean and purify water but not when the system is overloaded with pollution. This pollution heads downstream effecting the water supply of people down river. When the river is too polluted we only have ourselves to blame.

In Florida, Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in four counties due to “unprecedented” high algae blooms. Many people had to cancel or alter their Independence Day plans due to the thick blue-green algae build up in the water. The algae bloom is caused by high rains bringing large amounts of runoff into waterways that all lead to to the ocean. The increase in fertilizer and manure runoff provide a plethora of nutrients for algae to grow. Keep your eye on Florida as the algae dies and the bacteria take up much of the oxygen in the water which can be detrimental to aquatic wildlife.

On our own Texas coast we’ve been battling similar issues. Large amounts of rain have caused heavy inflows of freshwater into the Gulf. This creates areas of low oxygen which affects bottom-dwelling animals. When I was on the coast a few weeks ago the beaches were lined with thousands of dead crabs and starfish. The Gulf coast has also been battling with Vibrio vulnificus, the flesh eating bacteria that thrives in coastal water. “Dr. Jay Grimes, Professor of Marine Microbiology at GCRL, reports that with global climate change, Vibrio vulnificus populations are increasing as water temperatures rise. The rising water temperatures promote the increase in Vibrio vulnificus.  New cases of the bacterium are being found in waters where they were not previously perceived as a threat.” If you’re at the coast or heading there soon you can check actual bacteria levels at: cgis.glo.texas.gov/Beachwatch. If you have an open wound, don’t get in.

Many water quality issues stem from our own doing, so if you’re upset you can’t jump in and cool off this summer, start making some small changes in your everyday life to promote clean water. Here are some quick tips:

  • The sink and toilet are not a landfill. Check the ingredients on your soaps, shampoos and conditioners and pay attention to what you’re dumping down the drain. Many soaps contain ingredients that will not be cleaned by water treatment facilities and end up back in our river systems. Choose all natural ingredients to reduce pollution.
  • Pick up your dog waste and keep your cat inside. You may think your one animal isn’t a problem but each animal adds up. Plus, when you pick up your dogs waste others see that action and are more likely to do the same.
  • Eat less meat. Manure from feed lots, chicken houses and other livestock farms are big runoff polluters that enter our water supply – I don’t want to swim in poop, and I bet you don’t either. The manure is also a leading cause of algae blooms. Eating less meat reduces our demand for unsustainable agricultural practices.

The recent rains are a blessing and curse if we don’t keep our land clean to prevent pollution filled runoff.

As seen in the Katy Trail Weekly. 

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