The Rivers are Dying, What We Can Do to Save Them
80 percent of animal life rely on the various rivers and groundwater for survival. Unfortunately with human population on the rise, various pollutants and interferences with the river’s ecosystem has left 65 percent of the world’s rivers in danger of losing biodiversity due to stress factors. Thankfully, there are some cheap and easy solutions to this problem.
Water security is becoming increasingly important all over the world especially after several years of severe drought. A recent report by Nature considers factors that affect both human water security and biodiversity in an analysis of the threats to freshwater resources. Researchers from The City College (CCNY) of The City University of New York (CUNY), University of Wisconsin and seven other institutions have identified 23 different stressors to rivers, which include: effects of pollution, dams and reservoirs, water overuse, agricultural runoff, loss of wetlands and introduction of invasive species [Source: Eureka Alert]. Unsurprisingly, regions with intensive agriculture and dense human settlement tend to have some of the most stressed water supplies in the world. While most humans use groundwater as their primary source, any changes in rivers would mean altered migration routes, fewer defenses against flooding and erosion, and other issues that directly impact humans. Local impacts are transported downstream and 30 out of the 47 largest rivers around the world record at least medium threat levels at the mouth, with only the most remote parts of the Amazon recording low levels. Some of the most threatened rivers are in the US with many making the endangered list, such as the Rio Grande. Fortunately, countries like the US are able to invest in engineering solutions to provide fresh water, though researchers estimate that by 2015 a combined investment of $800 billion will be required to cover the global water infrastructure [Source: Treehugger].
Fortunately, a lot of the solutions are very simple and cheap and look into maintaining water security as well as biodiversity. Keys to successful rehabilition of these rivers can be done by identifying then limiting threats on a local level rather than creating costly programs that would treat the symptoms rather than preventing them in the first place. For example, instead of creating new dams, engineers can re-work dam operating rules for maximum economic benefits while providing water releases downstream to preserve habitat and biodiversity. While industrialized countries can spend the money for these treatment facilities, poorer countries like China and India cannot afford these programs. Localizing the problems are much more cost-effective and, when combined with an integrated water resource management (WRM) strategy, more effective in general. Instead of just treating the water, the WRM strategy approaches ways to decrease stressors by focusing on better land management, irrigation techniques and protecting ecosystems. Dr. Charles Vörösmarty of CUNY states that in terms of the bottom-line “it would be more cost effective to ensure that river systems are not impaired in the first place…” and believes that integration of better water management worldwide is “absolutely essential” [Source: Eureka Alert].
Vörösmarty’s ideas are simple enough and approach water security in a global, yet local way. While his strategy for better water management is still vague, the ideas are solid. The only problem here is pushing the governments and corporations to focus on preventing the problem rather than treating it, and that would require some changes in the way they run their business.