To observe World Water Monitoring Day October 18, thousands of volunteers around the globe this month are testing the lifeblood of all living things.
No resource is more vital than clean water. Yet not all water is clean. To be sure, someone must test it.
Anyone can do it. Seniors, children, and all ages in between.
The challenge is 700,000 miles of U.S. rivers and streams and 40.6 million acres of lakes. Some are not being monitored or assessed because government agencies simply can't afford it. We don't know if some rivers, streams and lakes are safe for fishing or swimming. Can we eat the fish we catch? Is water quality improving? In many areas, no one can answer those questions.
Yes, lots of regular water quality monitoring takes place already. Volunteer monitoring groups have been in place for years in many areas. World Water Monitoring Day is designed to expand these on-going efforts. Some groups actually are observing October as Water Monitoring Month. World Water Monitoring Day is an event designed to help people learn the value of clean water and the role of water quality monitoring. It offers participants an opportunity to use a simple test kit to take water quality samples in their local streams, lakes, bays, or wetlands. Volunteers also will enter their data into an international database, and participate in activities that focus on our role in protecting clean water.
On the first National Water Monitoring Day in 2002, more than 75,000 people across the U.S. participated to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. Federal, state and local environmental agencies, volunteer monitoring groups, schools, and other community groups identified and registered 5,150 water sites in the U.S.
This year America's Clean Water Foundation and the International Water Association, along with EPA and other groups, are going global. Groups in Great Britain and other nations also are participating. U.S. Embassies throughout the world are promoting the observance.
Local watershed groups, schools, government agencies, and individual citizens already are organizing local monitoring and educational activities. In fact, monitoring began September 18 and continues through October 18, though data may be entered until December 5.
Everyone can get involved by joining a volunteer or watershed protection group, and learning about water pollution and what you can do to prevent it. Find your nearest group in EPA's National Directory of Volunteer Monitoring Programs. If there's not a volunteer group close by, start your own. Easy-to-use water testing kits explain how to test for four key water quality indicators:
* Temperature: Fish and other aquatic organisms are sensitive to changes in temperature and require a certain temperature range to survive and thrive. Cold water holds more oxygen than warm water. Warm water discharged from factories or heated by city streets can be a form of pollution to sensitive creatures;
* Dissolved Oxygen (DO): All aquatic creatures need oxygen. In water, oxygen exists in dissolved form known as DO. Many aquatic organisms are sensitive to wild changes in DO. Too much fertilizer or organic wastes washed into streams from city lawns, fields or feedlots can cause plants and bacteria to grow fast and DO levels to plummet. Water with consistently high DO can support stable, healthy and diverse populations of organisms;
* pH: The measurement of pH tells us how much acid or alkali water contains. Many aquatic organisms are adapted to a specific pH range and can die if it varies. Water pH is most strongly influenced by local geology (soils, rocks, minerals) and biological activity, but pollution like acid rain or mine drainage can lower pH. Low pH causes chemicals like heavy metals to dissolve in water, sometimes killing aquatic life. Small changes in pH can cause dramatic effects in aquatic systems; and
* Turbidity: This is a measurement of water clarity, or the ability of light to pass through water. Turbid or muddy water has inorganic suspended particles like clay or silt that come from erosion or resuspension. Or it may have organic particles, such as algae, that grow as a result of runoff that contains excesses of the fertilizers nitrogen and phosphorus.
Planners are hoping participation in World Water Monitoring Day activities this year will double last year's numbers. Some 830 local monitoring organizations with several hundred thousand volunteers regularly monitor streams and lakes in their areas. Many of those groups will participate, and EPA hopes you will, too.
Look for a water festival, an open house, educational expo or public gathering to learn more about key issues confronting your watershed.
For more information, visit www.epa.gov.