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World’s Rivers Threatened by Human Impacts

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:

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.

citarum river

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

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3:22PM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

Read, thank you Jake.

10:03AM PDT on Oct 11, 2010

The age old problem: too many people, too many egos.

7:59AM PDT on Oct 7, 2010

The real crap will hit the fan when property rights and border disputes begin over the precious remaining freshwater resources.

4:48AM PDT on Oct 7, 2010

Prof. Charles VoroSMARTY, where 'ya been all our lives? Finally, a reality check of merit.

If past experience is any measure of what results from all of this information, unfortunately it is my belief WE'RE STILL IN DEEP SHIT!

1:20PM PDT on Oct 6, 2010

Voila ce qui arrive quand on défie les lois de la nature,tout ces
humains qui ont remodelé lacs et rivières pour leurs intérêts
sans réflaichir aux conséquenses,ni penser aux autres ,c'est
triste de voir toutes ces lacs pollueé ,avec les 3milliards en chemin de plus ca ne vas pas être si rose que ça .»»

8:38AM PDT on Oct 6, 2010


9:54PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

Thanks for the article.

7:41PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

thanks for the post.

1:08PM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

In the not to distant future man will eradicate himself, fighting over clean water. It will be more precious than anything else. The fight is on to save the planet, and mankind as we know it.

10:12AM PDT on Oct 5, 2010

Petitions seem to work because Americans do not hear of the pollution in the rivers and streams by the media. Ignorance is bliss so lack of information to the masses is what is happening. A few of us that care really do care but I talk about it to people and they know nothing and do not want to know. Instead of all the money to wars just think of what could be done. We are being led astray.

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