Water Quality in Ohio
Water is essential for life, health and well-being. But how clean is the water we drink, use and enjoy in Ohio? In this blog post, we will explore some of the factors that affect water quality in our state, and what we can do to protect and improve it.
What is water quality?
Water quality is a measure of how suitable water is for a particular use, such as drinking, bathing, fishing or recreation. Water quality can be affected by natural and human factors, such as geology, climate, land use, pollution and treatment. Some of the common indicators of water quality are:
- Physical: color, odor, temperature, turbidity (cloudiness)
- Chemical: pH (acidity or alkalinity), dissolved oxygen, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), metals (lead, arsenic, mercury), pesticides, pharmaceuticals
- Biological: bacteria (E. coli, fecal coliform), viruses, parasites (Giardia, Cryptosporidium), algae, aquatic plants and animals
Why is water quality important?
Water quality is important for many reasons. First of all, water quality affects human health and safety. Drinking or using contaminated water can cause illnesses such as diarrhea, hepatitis, typhoid fever and cancer. Exposure to harmful algae blooms can cause skin irritation, respiratory problems and liver damage. Swimming or boating in polluted water can also pose health risks.
Secondly, water quality affects the environment and wildlife. Poor water quality can harm aquatic ecosystems by reducing oxygen levels, altering habitats, disrupting food chains and threatening biodiversity. Water pollution can also affect terrestrial ecosystems by contaminating soil and groundwater.
Thirdly, water quality affects the economy and society. Clean water is essential for various sectors such as agriculture, industry, energy and tourism. Water quality can affect crop yields, product quality, operational costs and consumer demand. Water quality can also affect property values, recreation opportunities and cultural heritage.
How is water quality in Ohio?
Ohio has a rich and diverse water resources network that includes rivers, lakes, reservoirs, wetlands and groundwater. According to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), about 90% of Ohioans rely on public water systems for their drinking water supply. The OEPA monitors and regulates these systems to ensure they meet the federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards.
However, not all water sources in Ohio are safe or clean. According to the OEPA's 2018 Integrated Water Quality Report, about 40% of the assessed river and stream miles and 61% of the assessed lake acres in Ohio do not meet the water quality standards for their designated uses. The most common causes of impairment are nutrients (mainly from agricultural runoff), bacteria (mainly from sewage overflows) and sediment (mainly from erosion).
Ohio also faces challenges from harmful algae blooms (HABs), which are overgrowths of cyanobacteria that produce toxins that can harm humans and animals. HABs occur when excess nutrients (especially phosphorus) enter the water from sources such as fertilizer runoff, manure runoff or sewage overflows. HABs can affect drinking water sources (such as Lake Erie) and recreational waters (such as Grand Lake St. Marys).
What can we do to improve water quality in Ohio?
Improving water quality in Ohio requires a collaborative effort from various stakeholders such as government agencies, local communities, businesses, farmers and citizens. Some of the actions that can be taken to protect and improve water quality are:
- Implementing best management practices (BMPs) to reduce nutrient and sediment runoff from agricultural lands
- Upgrading wastewater treatment plants and sewer systems to prevent overflows and leaks
- Adopting green infrastructure practices such as rain barrels, rain gardens and permeable pavements to reduce stormwater runoff
- Educating the public about the sources and impacts of water pollution and how to conserve water
- Supporting research and innovation to develop new technologies and solutions for water quality issues
- Enforcing existing laws and regulations to prevent illegal dumping and discharge of pollutants
- Participating in volunteer programs such as stream cleanups, water quality monitoring and watershed stewardship
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Water quality is a vital issue that affects our health, environment and economy. Ohio has many valuable water resources that need to be protected and improved. By working together, we can ensure that we have clean and safe water for ourselves and future generations.