Pollution, irrigation, dams and reservoirs are causing severe damage to the world’s rivers, concluded a recent study. Lead author of the study, Prof Charles Vorosmarty from the City University of New York, said, “With all the protection the EU has in place, it was surprising to see it was a hotspot for biodiversity loss. But for a long time Europeans have altered their landscapes, including the removal of 90% of wetlands and floodplains, which are crucial parts of river ecosystems.” (Source: The Guardian)
Another one of the authors, Professor Peter McIntyre said what caused them great surprise was the finding that some of the most threatened rivers are in wealthy countries like the United States and some in Europe. They also found damage to rivers could have a tremendous impact on animals and plants that depend upon them for their survival. Their study found 10,000 to 20,000 aquatic species are at risk or facing extinction due to river damage.
They also noted technological solutions to river problems in wealthy countries provide a false sense of security because they tend to mask the root causes of the problems, rather than addressing them. Damage to rivers also causes humans to suffer through exposure to contaminated water, and lack of healthy drinking water, “The number of people under chronically high water scarcity, many of whom are poor, is 1.7 billion or more globally, with 1.0 billion of these living in areas with high adjusted human water security threat.” (Source: Globalchangeblog.com)
Their study documented how 23 human impacts are causing destruction of river habitats. Thirty of the 47 largest rivers show a moderate threat level to their water quality.
Several years ago, it was speculated the Citarum River in Indonesia could be the most polluted in the world. Its surface was covered in plastic trash in some places.
The Environmental Working Group indicated the Mississippi River is the most polluted river in the United States in terms of sheer numbers of toxic material dumped into it. Between 1990 and 1994, they reported 702,496,748 pounds of toxic discharge entered its waters.
The cultural attitude rivers are a sort of garbage dumps with water (instead of dirt), and sanitation reservoirs seems to contribute to their abuse. Rivers of course are complex ecoystems that make life possible, and are a very important part of the hydrological cycle.
Image Credit: Andrew Hitchcock