What is river pollution?
River pollution is a situation when contamination by various harmful substances, including chemicals, sewage, and garbage concentrate in the water. There are many reasons that can lead to this situation. In the last two centuries since the industrial revolution, we focused on producing more while completely disregarding the effects of such production. This mentality led to the concentration of many polluting substances in various mediums, among them our rivers.
The are a variety of sources for pollution, including agricultural runoff, industrial discharge, and sewage treatment plants. Pollution can have a deadly effect on the ecosystem of the river, as well as on the health of humans and animals depending on the river. Additionally, it can change the chemical and biological properties of the river, making it inhospitable for aquatic life. The pollution in rivers is a subtopic of water pollution which is a wider problem that needs our attention.
The problem with polluted bodies of water is the harm to the microecological system, starting with fish and aquatic life, and the biological chain. Rivers are a big part of the small water cycles and such pollution jeopardizes those cycles. When a part of the chain starts degrading it has a negative impact on entire ecosystems, including plants and animals that rely on the river for survival. To help prevent river pollution, individuals, businesses, and governments should take steps to reduce the amount of waste and pollutants that we release into the environment.
In this article, we will explain what can we do to help rivers recover, and cover some inspiring successful restoration projects. A common feature of those projects is the involvement of the community in the restoration. Similarly, to other environmental problems such involvement can have a crucial impact on the speed of regeneration as well as its quality.
What can we do to remediate a polluted river?
- Treating wastewater: To achieve that we have various methods. The most popular ones are chemical treatments, filtration, and biological processes. The goal of such an intervention is to remove pollutants from wastewater before we release it back into the environment to protect the discharge sites.
- Pollution control regulations: Governments can implement regulations to limit the amount of pollution that is allowed to be released into rivers by industries and other organizations.
- Best management practices (BMPs): These are practices that are designed to prevent pollution from occurring in the first place. Examples of BMPs include conservation tillage, nutrient management, and erosion control.
- Cleanup efforts: This can involve physically removing pollutants from the river, such as debris or oil spills.
- Habitat restoration: Damaged ecosystems can be restored by planting native vegetation, removing invasive species, and reintroducing native species.
- Public education: Raising awareness about the impacts of pollution and encouraging individuals, organizations, and governments to take action to reduce pollution can also help to remediate river pollution.
- Green infrastructure: Implementing green infrastructure such as rain gardens, green roofs, and permeable pavements can help to reduce the number of pollutants that enter the river through stormwater runoff.
- Reusing and Recycling: Encouraging the reuse and recycling of materials can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills and ultimately in rivers.
Note that an effective remediation process consists of a few actions depending on the specific pollutants, their concentrations, and their sources.
The five most inspiring rivers rehabilitation project
The Hudson River in New York, USA:
It took decades of effort to clean the famous Hudson river. The hazardous pollutant PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) refers to a group of organic man-made chemicals that we used for agricultural purposes. The concentration of this substance was a burden on the ecosystem of the river. After significantly reducing levels of this chemical, we can now observe the return of fish and other aquatic life in the river. The main action taken to clean up the Hudson River was the dredging of PCB-contaminated sediment from a 65 kilometers stretch of the river. This was a large-scale project that took several years to complete and involved the removal of over 2.1 million cubic meters of contaminated sediment.
The initial cleaning of the river was not enough, and in order to ensure the river stays clean the community initiated Riverkeeper. This organization works to protect and restore the Hudson River and its tributaries in New York, USA. They provide education and outreach to local communities, as well as advocate for stronger pollution control regulations. Moreover, they provide technical assistance to help the local
residents reduce pollution.
The Thames River in London, UK
The Thames River was polluted for many years until in recent years, it has undergone significant improvement in water quality. The problem with the Thames was the discharge of sewage both from civilian and industrial facilities. To achieve that effect the local authorities focused on two methods to insure we decrease the pollutants load the river needs to deal with. They improved existing sewage treatment facilities and built new ones on the one hand, while at the same time tightening pollution control and regulation on industrial discharge. These actions have led to significant reductions in the number of pollutants entering the river and with time the ecological system restored itself. this story emphasizes the amazing ability of an environment to stabilize itself if we only don’t load it too far with unnatural intervention.
The local community was involved both in the cleanup efforts by helping to collect and recycle waste from the river and by founding Thames21. This UK-based organization works to improve the water quality of the Thames River and its tributaries. They provide education and reach local communities, as well as organize cleanup events and encourage the use of best management practices to reduce pollution.
The Rhine River in Europe
The Rhine River is one of the most important rivers in Europe flowing through Switzerland, Austria, Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Liechtenstein.
They use the river for shipping and industry. For the big scale of the cleaning project, a multi-national effort was needed. Resulting in significant improvements in the quality of water making them suitable for the return of aquatic life and the recovery of the surrounding ecosystems.
The Rhine River cleanup effort involved many measures including stricter regulations on industrial discharges, the construction of new sewage treatment plants all along its course, as well as cleanup efforts to remove pollutants from the river in many. Community members were involved in the cleanup effort through various small social initiatives, helping to promote recycling and waste reduction. The main thing we can learn from this project is how by taking responsibility a group of countries can collaborate to make a real change in their environment. Each one of the countries could just as easily deny its responsibility for the pollution of the river, and the fact they didn’t can inspire other countries to collaborate.
The RiverCare initiative by the European Union, provides information, good practice examples, and tools for river basin management and river restoration.
This information can be used by citizens, local authorities, NGOs, and professionals. Much of the information gathered by such organizations is from the experience of participating in megascale restoration projects like the rhine river.
The Cuyahoga River in Ohio, USA
The Cuyahoga River was once so polluted with oils and flammable industrial waste that it regularly caught fire. Like you can assume by now we needed a combination of stricter regulations, cleanup efforts, and public education to reach a significant improvement in the quality of water in the river. The project was so successful that the river is now a popular spot for fishing and relaxation. The public education campaigns they launched to raise awareness about the impacts of pollution and encourage individuals and organizations to take action to reduce pollution had a wider impact on the mindful consumption of the local community.
The Anacostia River in Washington, DC, USA
The Anacostia River is yet another great example of a successful restoration project. Once heavily polluted due to a combination of industrial discharge, sewage, and stormwater runoff. The runoff phenomena caused a flow of chemicals originating from agricultural activities to concentrate in the water which made the local environment hostile to the natural habitats. With cleanup efforts and green infrastructure projects, the situation has improved and it has become a popular spot for kayaking and fishing. The water quality improved so much that it is now safe for swimming. These are just a few examples, there are many more success stories of river remediation projects around the world.
An example of green infrastructure projects built to support the natural recovery of the water body is rain gardens and green roofs. In those areas where we increased biological activity in turn the carbon levels increased. That led to an increase in the capacity of water holding in the surrounding basin and reduced the volume of pollutants that enter the river through stormwater runoff.
The role of the community in river remediation projects
The reason we choose the previous examples is the way they highlight the part a community can play in a remediation project. When we bring the attention of the people toward the environmental problem they become more mindful of their consumption and their relationship with waste. This effect has an important role in river remediation projects but is not limited to that. Raising awareness about the issue and encouraging individuals, social groups, and the local authorities to take action to reduce pollution. The last will for sure benefit the river’s health but even more important than that will improve the community’s health.
When a local group work with local officials to implement best management practices (BMPs) that can help to prevent pollution from occurring in the first place all mediums of the natural environment benefit. Communities can also work with local organizations and businesses to promote recycling and waste reduction, which can reduce the number of pollutants that enter those natural habitats. Moreover, there is a tremendous social gain from communal work and education benefits from involving all age groups in this important cause. In most of those cases, community involvement was an essential part of the cleanup process which increased the general level of involvement of the members. Community engagement is also crucial to ensure that the needs of local residents are taken into account.
Additional organizations promoting community involvement in river restorations
There are many more blessed initiatives that share the passion to restore awareness of the health of water bodies and aim to achieve this goal with the help of the community. Above we discussed a few of them that we find inspiring but we wanted to mention two more that are working for this cause for a long while now and we believe that they deserve a place in this article.
River Network: a US-based organization that works to support and connect a network of organizations and individuals working to protect and restore rivers and other water bodies across the country. They provide education and training to help communities take action and raise awareness to reduce pollution and improve water quality.
Save The River: This organization which operates since 1972, uses the slogan connecting people saving rivers, which is the pure essence of this article’s point. Their work to protect and restore the St. Lawrence River while harnessing its surrounding communities is nothing less than inspiring. They provide great educational materials on their website and we highly recommend taking a closer look at it.
River pollution is a complex issue that affects the ecosystem both on the local and global levels, as well as human health and well-being. The sources of pollution are varying and for that, there is no one solution to remediate all of them. The good news is that there are many steps we can take to address each of the pollution sources and that we already have some examples of rivers restoration to learn from. Inspiring river rehabilitation projects, such as the Hudson River in New York and the Thames River in London, demonstrate that with concerted effort and community involvement, we can successfully clean up polluted rivers and restore them to their natural state. By working together, we can create a better, more sustainable future for our environment and society.
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