It is also a contributing factor to water scarcity, as it limits the amount of clean and safe water to consume and use.
So, it’s reasonable to say that water pollution and contamination it a problem that needs to be addressed.
In this guide, we outline some of the best ways to potentially prevent, control and stop water pollution and contamination.
Summary – Potential Solutions For Water Pollution & Contamination
- Solutions for water pollution may involve at their core – 1. Preventing and reducing the amount of water pollution and contamination that occurs, and 2. Treating and purifying water that has already been polluted and contaminated (making it safe and clean again)
- There are general solutions to water pollution and inadequate water quality, but, solutions also need to be customized to the individual countries, cities and regions around the world
- Each location in the world has different causes for their water pollution and contamination issues, and have different water sources (surface water, ground water or marine water) local to the area that are polluted or contaminated. Water pollution also pollutes a body of water from different points, and can even cross contaminate other bodies of water
- Developed and developing countries (and low income vs high income regions) for example can face very different issues when it comes to water pollution and contamination
- So, in addition to focus on an area of local water pollution, each individual cause and source of pollution also needs it’s own strategy to address
- There are clear challenges and problems that prevent water pollution and contamination solutions from being fully implemented in almost every country around the world. Just a few of those problems might include but aren’t limited to a lack of economic incentive to prevent water pollution by polluters, the difficulty involved in tracking water pollution, conflict between economic and environmental outcomes, a lack of finances and resources to prevent water pollution, a lack of finances and resources to treat water pollution, and more
- One key solution that might make a lot of sense to prevent some water pollution is better/increased waste water treatment and water recycling, as around 80% of waste water globally is currently discharged without treatment … often into water sources. Desalination may also makes some sense, particularly for brackish water
- Prevention of water pollution in the first place may be a better approach than trying to treat polluted water
Understanding Water Pollution As A Broad Issue
To be able to address and deal with specific water pollution solutions, there first needs to be a general understanding of water pollution.
You can read more in this guide about all the different aspects of water pollution such as the types of water pollutants, the sources of these water pollutants, how pollutants get into types of water bodies, effects, and so on.
In that guide we also outline how the causes/sources of water pollution might differ in a generalized way between developed and developing countries.
Understanding Local Water Pollution Problems In Individual Countries, Cities & Regions
After understanding water pollution and contamination on a broad level, we need to understand the local water pollution situation in the country, city or region where we are trying to develop or implement solutions in.
This involves understanding the local causes and sources of water pollution, as well as which bodies of water are being polluted.
Bodies of water generally include surface water (rivers, lakes, etc.), ground water aquifers, and the ocean. Different bodies of water may be polluted by different pollutants, from different sources, at different points.
You can read more in this guide for a list of the countries and cities around the world with the most polluted and contaminated local sources of water, and some of the main causes of their water pollution or contamination.
For example, some sources say the Pearl River in China is polluted/contaminated with ‘… industrial runoff and wastewater from nearby factories’.
In this instance, we have a specific water source, suspected contaminants, and a source from which contaminants might be coming from – all in one local/geographic area.
Understand The General Solutions To Water Pollution
Next, there might be the two main solutions for water pollution and contamination:
1. Preventing, or reducing water pollution and contamination
- Involves reducing or preventing water pollution at the source and point/s of pollution
- This usually involves capturing and managing the waste and containing it, and/or treating the waste and re-using it, or disposing of it safely.
Municipal waste water treatment plants and systems, sewage treatment plants, industrial waste waster plants, and agricultural waste water plants are some of the common ways to do this.
Water quality guidelines, laws and regulations, plans and reports/updates that encourage transparency from governments and water suppliers around water pollution, and penalties and credits/incentives for major polluters, can all help too.
But, there’s many more specific and custom solutions that can be implemented for each type, source and point of pollutants, as well as the specific water source being polluted.
2. Cleaning, and treating/purifying water that has already been polluted or contaminated
- This usually involves removing the waste or water pollutant/contaminant from the water source first.
- The water then needs to be treated and purified, and brought to a safe and clean water quality level (there are tests that can be done for this).
- Different sources of water for different end uses may need to meet a different water quality level.
* Note – at this stage, there are still some types of water pollutants and contaminants, as well as some types of brackish or highly saline water can’t be treated and purified. So, not all polluted or contaminated water can be used for say drinking or irrigation purposes.
Develop Solutions For Local Water Sources, & Individual Countries, Cities & Regions
Lastly, we we can put together a custom plan to address water pollution and contamination locally in specific countries, cities and regions.
In the above example we used of the Pearl River in China, we know the:
- Water Source – Pearl River
- Main Water Pollutants – Industrial runoff and wastewater
- Water Pollutant Source – Nearby factories
- Point Or Points At Which River Is Being Polluted – unknown
Solutions might initially centre around [note – the Pearl River has since received clean up efforts in real life, which we have reported on below]:
- Identifying the points where the Pearl River is being polluted (a single point, or dispersed multiple points?)
- Identifying the exact industrial pollutants and waste that are polluting the river
- Identifying the exact factories (or the main factories) that are polluting the river
- Identifying the point or points at which the river is being contaminated or polluted
- Introducing systems to catch and treat runoff
- Introducing systems to treat waste water, and ether re-use it, or discharge of it once it is safe to do so
- Introducing better laws and regulations (which may or may not include incentives and penalties) for dumping untreated waste, or inadequately managing industrial and waste water waste
- [If the Pearl River is responsible for any cross contamination of other water sources such as other Rivers or the ocean – this would need to be assessed and addressed too]
This may reduce pollution of the river significantly. But, the river may still need to have waste and pollutants removed, and the water may need to be treated in some way to become clean and safe (or meet a certain water quality standard) again.
Once a water source has been polluted or contaminated, there may also be side effects in the water such as algal blooms. These side effects need to be treated and addressed too.
Why Water Pollution Still Happens – Problems & Challenges Associated With Addressing Water Pollution
The reality is that water pollution and contamination still happens all over the world.
There’s an endless list of reasons why this is the case, but some of the main reasons might be:
- Lack of finances or budgets for developed countries and States to implement and maintain proper water infrastructure, sanitation/hygiene, or waste and pollutant management/treatment systems [water treatment, waste and water pollutant management systems, and cleaning polluted water sources can be expensive … for example, it costs in the billions every year to remove algal blooms and nitrates from one water source in the US]
- Once polluted, some water can’t be treated or cleaned – water with trace particles and chemicals, and water with heavy or particularly hazardous chemicals may fit this category
- Low income and poorer regions simply can’t afford water, waste, pollutant, hygiene and sanitation technology, facilities and systems (which is why open defecation and bathing in water sources in lesser developed countries or regions is more common)
- Non point source water pollution (pollution from multiple points and not one single point) is very hard to regulate and manage because it doesn’t come from a single point [for example, agricultural run off may be close to impossible to manage and control unless less synthetic agricultural chemicals are used in the first place]
- Politics, and governments sometimes don’t place a priority on clean and safe non polluted water
- Government objectives and the objectives of those in charge of water supply and natural water resources conflict with water protection and management e.g. economic and social objectives such as growing GDP and providing new jobs frequently conflict with environmental and water related objectives. Economic and industrial growth is actually one of the major reasons for all types of pollution – air, water and soil – in many countries, but especially developing and growing countries
- Relating to the above point – sometimes there is no incentive or economic value in preserving water quality of a water source.
- The different levels of government can have difficulties in making changes to water quality and water pollution uniform – for example, this happens in China with the national/central government, and the county level councils expected to enforce changes (globalwaterforum.org).
- Responsibility for water pollution often has no accountability or responsibility constantly gets shifted
- Transboundary water pollution is hard to address because it’s not always clear where pollution came from or who is responsible for cleaning it up
- It’s easier and cheaper in many instances for the polluter to dispose of their waste or pollutants without treating or managing them
- A lack of adequate water quality guidelines, and waste and pollutant management laws and regulations, or poor enforcement of these laws and regulations
- Water supply pipes and infrastructure are old and difficult to upgrade or replace (water supply pipes can leach heavy metals and chemicals into the drinking water supply line)
- With ground water in particular – it can be very hard to clean these water sources once polluted (nrdc.org)
- Developed countries often outsource the production of their goods to countries with poor environmental protection standards in place – so, rivers, lakes and water sources in these countries often suffer
- Water quality monitoring takes more time than air quality monitoring – water monitoring still relies on manual efforts and cannot be done as frequently (marketwatch.com)
Examples Of How Cities & Countries Around The World Are Addressing, Or Reducing Water Pollution
In China, measures that have been introduced or are in place to address water pollution are:
- More Financing – governments providing more money to address water pollution (including addressing drinking water standards, waste water treatment, and pollution control)
- Stronger Laws – to govern pollution prevention and remediation
- Objectives & Standards (five year plans with targets for water quality) – set by the State Council and ministries for water managers. For example, X amount of water in X water source must meet ‘Grade III or higher standards’
- Monitoring Sites – are set up to monitor water for a range of standards and suitabilities e.g. suitability for human contact.
- Punish Polluters – including companies and industries
- Upgrade Current Facilities & Technology – such as sewage facilities, and waste water treatment
- Reduced Contamination From Water Pollutants – for example, less agricultural pollution by lowering the use of chemical fertilizers and insecticides
- Online Systems – that publish data about water pollution, and allows citizens to report on and update cases of water pollution
Also on Chinese water pollution:
- Plan – that contains 26 detailed requirements and 238 measures to help meet the 2020 targets. Each measure is assigned to a specific government department to implement.
- Classifying Water Sources – from one through to five, and having X amount of water sources in the top three water classes by a certain year
- Protection Schemes & Preservation Zones – especially for urban areas.
- Regular Inspections & Evaluations – of water sources. And, results made public
- Data Being Published – by all cities, on the condition of their drinking water
- Some Factories Shut Down – such as small factories in papermaking, pesticide production and tanning (and other high polluters)
- Close Attention To Be Paid To Certain Industries – such as fertilizer, non-ferrous metals and coking sectors
On Chinese water pollution solutions in the Pearl River:
- Financing & Expertise – was sourced for the clean up
- Waste Water Treatment Facility Capacities – were expanded for certain municipalities and waste water collection and treatment rose 55%
- Better Sludge Disposal – 4 new facilities to ensure sludge is treated and safely disposed of
- Water Quality Monitoring – via new stations
- Sediment Removal From Waterways – via dredging as well as dewatering and safe disposal
- Flood Protection & River Embankment Improvements – that redirect waste water to treatment plants, and raise the bank to protect river against floods
- Staff Training & Technical Assistance – on international best practices
- [In the future, there are plans to improve collection networks through sewer rehabilitation, and extension to new city areas]
- [Cost may be an area of concern for other countries to emulate – the Project cost US$142.2 million, with US$70.92 financed by an IBRD loan]
The UK has introduced measures to address agricultural water pollution (the main cause of water pollution in the UK, along with high levels of phosphorus residue transfers from farmland and sewage systems):
- Rules – for farmers to reduce diffuse water pollution from soil, fertiliser and manure
- Testing – growers to test pollution risks every 5 years in soil before planting (as well as make other considerations)
- Organic Fertilizers – farmers encouraged to use (via a government grant) them to reduce ammonia pollution
From all-about-water-filters.com, these countries (which are among the top water polluters in the world) currently have the following major measures in place to address water pollution:
- Laws – to regulate wastewater management and treatment of water supplies
- Water quality standards – for different uses of water
- Enforcement – of laws and standards doesn’t appear to be strict
- Act – has the Safe Water Drinking Act in place
- Act – has the Clean Water Act in place
- Basic Environment Plan – a section of this plan includes water protection and conservation
- Law – has the Water Pollution Control Law in place
- Act – has the Federal Water Act in place
- Act – has the Waste Water Charges Act in place
- Program – has the Pollution Control Evaluation and Rating Program in place
- Program – has the Clean River Program in place
- Division – has the Natural Resources Management Division set up
- Policy – has the National Policy in Water Resources in place
Other Notes On Addressing Water Pollution & Contamination
In addition to what has been listed above …
Some general ideas for addressing the different causes of water pollution and water pollution might be:
- Agricultural – use less synthetic chemicals (which contribute to nutrient pollution), or specifically high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphates, and consider more of an organic farming approach. Manage and contain livestock waste much better
- Municipal Wastewater and Sewage – more effective sewage plants and waste water plants, or increase their capacity to process more waste and sewage
- Industrial – more effective industrial waste water treatment and re-use of greywater. Stricter laws and regulations on dumping and discharging untreated waste
- Energy & Power Generation – find a way to move towards cleaner energy generation, which doesn’t create as much air pollution and CO2 (which leads to acid rain, absorption of CO2, and other issues)
- Transport – find a way to move towards cleaner energy cars (to reduce air pollution and CO2), and to reduce leakages from cars and other vehicles
- Plastic & Solid Waste – decrease the mismanagement rate of plastic with less littering, and better waste management systems (waste collection, and waste disposal sites)
- Landfills & Incineration – better contained landfills that let less waste leak and with more secure soil linings, and waste incineration sites with air pollution controls
- Mining – better treatment and containment of mining tailings
- Basic Sanitation, Hygiene & Clean & Safe Drinking Water
Additionally, investment in these technologies could help address the problem on several levels:
- Invest In Polluted Water Treatment Technology – to better clean water that is already polluted and contaminated. Some researchers are adding technologies to deal with new and potentially harmful pollutants. Others are designing approaches that work with existing water systems. Still others aim to clean up pollutants at their source. (sciencenewsforstudents.org)
- Water Supply Capacity Augmentation – It doesn’t address water pollution directly, but if we can increase freshwater supply capacity, we have more water to use in case some gets polluted – which gives us a bigger margin for error with future water supplies. Desalination plants are one example of this type of augmentation. Perth in Australia is already using desalination plants to create more fresh water (due to water scarcity concerns).