How Safe is Your Water?

ENVIRONMENT

A West Virginia chemical spill brought attention to a broader national problem. “We often don’t think about where our water comes from,” or how it could be contaminated, say conservationists. (National Geographic News)

Watch these “pictures of practice” to see how students and teachers understand water pollution and water purification.

Nat Geo Explorer Shannon Switzer walked the entire length of the San Dieguito River—145 kilometers (90 miles) from its headwaters in the mountains to its delta in Del Mar, California. This aerial view of Del Mar shows the dark, runoff-rich waters of the San Dieguito spilling into the Pacific Ocean. The area has been recognized as an "impaired water body" by the Environmental Protection Agency, due to elevated levels of bacteria. Read more about Shannon "Walking the Watershed" here. Photograph courtesy Shannon Switzer, National Geographic

This aerial view of Del Mar shows the dark, runoff-rich waters of the San Dieguito spilling into the Pacific Ocean near Del Mar, California. The area has been recognized as an “impaired water body” by the Environmental Protection Agency, due to elevated levels of bacteria. Read more about the San Dieguito here.
Photograph courtesy Shannon Switzer, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • Once you find your watershed, think about how your community uses its freshwater.
    • The USGS Water Science School is a great place to start to think about water use. Here’s a list of categories of use, in order from largest- to smallest-withdrawal of freshwater (either groundwater or surface water).
      • Electricity. The largest freshwater use is for thermoelectric power. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.) Water for thermoelectric power is used in generating electricity with steam-driven turbine generators.
      • Irrigation. Almost 60 percent of all the world’s freshwater withdrawals go towards irrigation uses.
      • Public Supply. These are government or privately-run facilities that withdraw water from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and wells and then deliver it to our homes, businesses, and schools. The majority of the population (about 86 percent) of the United States nowadays gets their water in this manner.
      • Industry. Probably every manufactured product uses water during some part of the production process.
      • Aquaculture. Aquaculture water use is water associated with raising creatures that live in water—such as fish and shellfish—for food, restoration, conservation, or sport.
      • Domestic Use. Domestic water use is water used for indoor and outdoor household purposes—all the things you do at home: drinking, preparing food, bathing, washing clothes and dishes, brushing your teeth, watering the yard and garden, and even washing the dog.
      • Mining. Mining water use is water used for the extraction of minerals that may be in the form of solids, such as coal, iron, sand, and gravel; liquids, such as crude petroleum; and gases, such as natural gas. The category includes quarrying, milling (crushing, screening, washing, and flotation of mined materials), re-injecting extracted water for secondary oil recovery, and other operations associated with mining activities.
      • Livestock. Livestock water use is water associated with livestock watering, feedlots, dairy operations, and other on-farm needs.

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