Articles & Reports – Water Pollution

Articles & Reports

Topic Key

Environmental Consequences

Improvement Strategies

Sources of Water Pollution

Water Pollution Concepts

Watershed Fundamentals

The web page's header. (Source: USGS)

USGS - Ongoing

"Over the last 100 years, agricultural expansion and intensification has led to changes in water quality and the health of stream ecosystems. Considerable increases in fertilizer and pesticide use began in the 1960s. In 2010, about 11 billion kilograms of nitrogen fertilizer and 300 million kilograms of pesticides were used annually to enhance crop production or control pests. Increased levels of nutrients from fertilizers draining into streams can stimulate algal blooms and affect stream health and recreational uses of local streams, downstream reservoirs, and estuaries, and increase treatment costs for drinking water. Pesticides that are transported to streams can pose risks for aquatic life and fish-eating wildlife and drinking-water supplies."

A workboat collecting oil in the Gulf of Mexico. (Source: Ted Jackson) - Jul 2019

"The environmental, economic and medical impacts of the 2010 oil spill sparked by the Deepwater Horizon disaster reached hundreds of miles inland to wreak complicated havoc on five Gulf states, and the cascades of litigation to follow were just as complex.

Two months after the April 2010 spill, BP created what was known as the Gulf Coast Claims Facility to head off lawsuits. In exchange for a waiver of liability, the fund made quick cash payouts."

An example of a macroinvertebrate. (Source: Audubon Naturalist Society)

Audubon Naturalist Society - Ongoing

"Audubon Naturalist Society’s Creek Critters® app walks you through finding and identifying the small organisms – or critters – that live in freshwater streams and creating stream health reports based on your findings."

Creek Critters acts as a tool when identifying macroinvertebrates and allows users to contribute to a community science project.

"Early response to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion." (Source: USCG)

NOAA - Aug 2020

"On April 20, 2010, an explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion, which killed 11 men, caused the rig to sink and started a catastrophic oil leak from the well. Before it was capped three months later, approximately 134 million gallons of oil had spilled into the Gulf, the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), we evaluated the type and amount of restoration needed in order to return the Gulf to the condition it would have been in before the spill and to compensate the public for the natural resource services that were injured or lost. The Deepwater Horizon spill resulted in the largest natural resource damage assessment ever undertaken."

Areas with EPA dissolved oxygen standards (Source: Healthy Gulf)

The Times Picayune - Feb 2018

"Before EPA approved a decision by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to reduce the required dissolved oxygen level of the stream segments to 2.3 milligrams per liter from March through November, all of the affected waters were supposed to have oxygen levels no lower than 5 milligrams per liter for freshwater segments and no lower than 4 milligrams per liter for estuarine rivers and streams year-round in areas where freshwater and saltwater systems mix.

The change would effectively allow businesses and others in the rivers' watersheds to increase their release of pollutants into the water, such as fertilizer and other nutrients, the environmental groups argue, which could result in algae blooms or other changes in water quality."

Coliform bacteria colonies in a petri dish. (Source: Mountain Empire CC)

Water Research Center - 2020

"Total coliform bacteria are a collection of relatively harmless microorganisms that live in large numbers in the intestines of man and warm- and cold-blooded animals. They aid in the digestion of food. A specific subgroup of this collection is the fecal coliform bacteria, the most common member being Escherichia coli. These organisms may be separated from the total coliform group by their ability to grow at elevated temperatures and are associated only with the fecal material of warm-blooded animals."

Monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico. (Source: NOAA)

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science - Ongoing

"Harmful algal blooms (HABs), sometimes known as "red tide", occur when certain kinds of algae grow very quickly, forming patches, or "blooms", in the water. These blooms can emit powerful toxins which endanger human and animal health. Reported in every coastal state, HABs have caused an estimated $1 billion in losses over the last several decades to coastal economies that rely on recreation, tourism, and seafood harvesting. Blooms can lead to odors that require more costly treatment for public water supplies. NCCOS conducts and funds research that helps communities protect the public and combat blooms in cost-effective ways, and we are breaking new ground in the science of stopping blooms before they occur."

A turtle swimming through oiled water. (Source: NOAA)

NOAA - Feb 2021

"Oil spills are harmful to marine birds and mammals as well as fish and shellfish.

Oil destroys the insulating ability of fur-bearing mammals, such as sea otters, and the water repellency of a bird's feathers, thus exposing these creatures to the harsh elements. Without the ability to repel water and insulate from the cold water, birds and mammals will die from hypothermia."

Algal bloom in a body of water. (Source: Getty Images)

Sciencing - Aug 2018

"Phosphates are chemicals containing the element phosphorous, and they affect water quality by causing excessive growth of algae. About 3 1/2 pounds of phosphates per person enter the environment in the United States annually from farms, yards, waste water and factory waste. Phosphates in water feed algae, which grow out of control in water ecosystems and create imbalances, which destroy other life forms and produce harmful toxins."

The webpage header. (Source: EPA)

U.S. EPA - Ongoing

"How's My Waterway  was designed to provide the general public with information about the condition of their local waters based on data that states, federal, tribal, local agencies and others have provided to EPA. Water quality information is displayed on 3 scales in How’s My Waterway; community, state and national. More recent or more detailed water information may exist that is not yet available through EPA databases or other sources."

A petrochemical plant in St. Gabriel, LA (Source: David Grunfeld)

The Times Picayune & The Advocate / ProPublica - Oct 2019

"The threat of exposure to noxious chemicals — in the air, the land or the water — is nothing new in Louisiana. The state has ranked No. 2 in toxic emissions, behind Texas, just about every year since 1988, when the EPA began requiring industry to tally its pollution.

That year, the first in which the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory was published, Louisiana’s petrochemical plants acknowledged releasing nearly 1 billion pounds of hazardous wastes at their plant sites, or about 238 pounds for every person then in Louisiana."

Logo for The New Orleans Advocate and The Times-Picayune

The Times Picayune - Jun 2014

"A 10-year-old girl walks to the edge of the Kansas River in Topeka, Kansas, rolls up a note, and slips it into a plastic bottle before sending it downstream. Sixteen years, hundreds of miles, and two rivers later, Michael Coyne-Logan, an educational facilitator for Living Lands and Waters, hoists it from the Mississippi River in St. Louis. That is one bottle among the millions of pounds of trash that he and his cleanup crew have collected in recent years as they try to make a dent in the enormous amount of garbage floating down the Mississippi."

Damselfly larva (Photo by Kimberly Cooke)

Arlington County Government - 2021

"Different types of macroinvertebrates have different requirements to survive. Some require cooler temperatures, relatively high dissolved oxygen levels or certain habitats. Other macroinvertebrates may be able to survive in less-than-ideal conditions — where there are low dissolved oxygen levels or more sediment — or where the water temperature is warmer.

Again, there aren’t any “bad” macroinvertebrates, but the population present may indicate that there are bad stream conditions in which only the “strong” can survive."

Fish affected by nitrates (Source: WRIG)

Wheatley River Improvement Group - 2020

"Algae and other plants use nitrates as a source of food. If algae have an unlimited source of nitrates, their growth is unchecked.  So, Why is that a problem?

A bay or estuary that has the milky colour  of pea soup is showing the result of high concentrations of algae.  Large amounts of algae can cause extreme fluctuations in dissolved oxygen.  Photosynthesis by algae and other plants can generate oxygen during the day. However, at night, dissolved oxygen may decrease to very low levels as a result of large numbers of oxygen consuming bacteria feeding on dead or decaying algae and other plants."

Motor oil runoff pollutes bodies of water. (Source: NOAA)

NOAA National Ocean Service - Ongoing

"Most nonpoint source pollution occurs as a result of runoff. When rain or melted snow moves over and through the ground, the water absorbs and assimilates any pollutants it comes into contact with. Following a heavy rainstorm, for example, water will flow across a parking lot and pick up oil left by cars driving and parking on the asphalt. When you see a rainbow-colored sheen on water flowing across the surface of a road or parking lot, you are actually looking at nonpoint source pollution."

Cattle graze in Cancer Alley. (Source: David Grunfeld/The Times Picayune)

World Resources Institute - Oct 2020

"A 2015 report by the Inter American Commission on Human Rights also found pervasive problems associated with mining projects in territories where Indigenous Peoples and people of African descent live in the Americas, including contamination of soil and water and other negative health effects.

And yet, pollution and other environmental problems aren’t always viewed as examples of racial inequity. Groups around the world tend to treat environmental injustice and racial injustice as separate issues, when the reality is that environmental injustices often spring from systemic racism."

Nutrients from various sources and water quality (Source: USGS)

USGS - Mar 2017

"Nitrogen and phosphorus are essential nutrients—yet too much of a good thing is not always a good thing. Scientists are investigating nutrient pollution down the Mississippi River.

Each spring, water flows approximately 2,300 miles down the Mississippi River, beginning its journey at Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. Along the way, streams and rivers accumulate nutrients that run off the land and into the waterways, and eventually these nutrients enter the Gulf of Mexico. Spring pulses of nutrients to the Gulf contribute to the second largest hypoxic—or low oxygen—zone in the world."

A vessel of opportunity skims for oil. (Source: NOAA)

Sea Grant - 2016

"The impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill stretched beyond the Gulf of Mexico’s waters, plants, animals, and habitats. It affected the mental health of some residents along the Gulf Coast. The impacts varied based on what kind of job a person had, how attached they were to the place they lived, and how many disasters they had lived through prior to the spill...

The oil spill affected coastal communities of the Gulf of Mexico in many ways. Some people who relied on the Gulf for work lost income and business opportunities during the oil spill. Other coastal residents and cleanup workers were directly exposed to oil and witnessed the impact it caused to the shoreline and Gulf waters."

Scientific American Logo

Scientific American - Mar 2013

"Salt marshes are among the most ecologically productive and diverse ecosystems in the United States. They provide important services such as floodwater storage and storm protection for coastal cities such as New Orleans. Healthy marshes also serve essential roles in carbon sequestration, a service of primary concern at current emission rates of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, nutrient removal and water purification.

However, global climate change and sea level rise, agricultural and industrial development and loss of sediment supply are contributing to dramatic rates of wetlands loss worldwide."

Thermal pollution entering a body of water. (Source: Give Me 5)

Stanford University - Feb 2019

"The most common argument for the use of nuclear power over power from conventional fossil fuels is the diminished environmental impact that nuclear power promises. While nuclear fission reactions do not directly produce greenhouse gases like fossil fuel combustion, power plants affect the environment in a myriad of ways. In order to elucidate a clearer environmental impact comparison between all power generation methods, including renewables, less obvious environmental effects must be adequately assessed. For example, both nuclear and fossil fuel plants produce significant thermal pollution to bodies of water. Thermal water pollution is the degradation of water quality due to a change in ambient water temperature."

Polluted water pours into a larger body of water (Source: NRDC)

Natural Resource Defense Council - May 2018

"This widespread problem of water pollution is jeopardizing our health. Unsafe water kills more people each year than war and all other forms of violence combined. Meanwhile, our drinkable water sources are finite: Less than 1 percent of the earth’s freshwater is actually accessible to us. Without action, the challenges will only increase by 2050, when global demand for freshwater is expected to be one-third greater than it is now.

Still, we’re not hopeless against the threat to clean water. To better understand the problem and what we can do about it, here’s an overview of what water pollution is, what causes it, and how we can protect ourselves."

Scholarly Research

Sampling sites near Lake Pontchartrain. (Source: Zhang et al.)

Zhang, Wang, and Ali (Environ Monit Assess) - 2016

"The seasonal variation in physico-chemical properties, anions, and the heavy metal (Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Mn, Ni, Pb, and Zn) concentration was evaluated in water from nine different rivers in Lake Pontchartrain Basin, Louisiana, USA. The water quality parameters were com- pared with toxicity reference values (TRV), US Environ- mental Protection Agency (USEPA) drinking/aquatic life protection, and WHO standards. Among physico-chemical properties, pH, DO, and turbidity were high during spring, while EC, temperature, and DOC were high during summer and vice versa."

Averages of nitrogen loadings (Source: Turner et al.)

Turner et al. (Hydrobiologia) - 2002

"We constructed a nitrogen loading budget for the Lake Pontchartrain watershed located north of New Orleans, Louisiana (U.S.A.). Water quality measurements, discharge estimates, and literature values were used to establish the annual and seasonal variations in loading rates for total nitrogen and nitrate. ... The analysis demonstrates that the consequences of ecosystem restoration efforts, continued population growth and flood protection to estuarine nitrogen budgets are intertwined with each other, have a seasonal component, and are changing as policies evolve.

Differences in removal pathways for N (Source: Lee et al.)

Lee, Cherry, and Edmonds (Estuaries and Coasts) - Sept 2016

"Since the 1970s, a shift from inorganic to organic nitrogen-based fertilizer has occurred worldwide, and now urea constitutes greater than 50% of the global nitrogenous fertilizer usage. As a result, concentrations of urea will likely increase in waterways, facilitating transport to coastal wetland habitats where microbial-mediated transformations have the ability to alleviate excess nitrogen (N) pollution. To assess this biological potential for N removal in a brackish marsh ecosystem, we conducted a 5-day laboratory experiment where we monitored denitrification rate potentials (DNP) in microcosms with intact, vegetated sods, testing treatments of different urea solutions and a nitrate solution."


A water sample ready for testing (Source: Tim McCabe)

Pontchartrain Conservancy - Ongoing

"Since 2000, we've been keeping you up to date with the latest conditions around the lake and in our basin. With our data, communities can better understand when it might be unsafe to swim or boat, and have greater insight into what they can expect in the lake."

This web age contains publicly accessible water quality data for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin. Pontchartrain Conservancy tests for Dissolved Oxygen, Water Visibility, and other water quality parameters.